This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Marnie (1964)

"You don't love me. I'm just something you've caught! You think I'm some sort of animal you've trapped!"
"That's right - you are. And I've caught something really wild this time, haven't I? I've tracked you and caught you and by God I'm going to keep you."
-Marnie Edgar and Mark Rutland.

Alfred Hitchcock's career was at an all-time high in the late 1950s/early 60s. Television was becoming more and more prominent during that time, which is what led to the creation of the classic series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a show that is classic not just for its storylines, but for Hitchcock's wonderful appearances which bookended each installment (some have said that Steven Spielberg's series Amazing Stories may have had a longer run if Spielberg had hosted each episode).

Hitchcock even used the production crew from the show to make his most famous movie Psycho (1960), rightfully believing that the low-budget look applied to that film would make it more effective.

Psycho was just one of a string of films Hitchcock made during this period which became very famous and influential: Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), and The Birds (1963). Although all three had a bigger-budget than Psycho, they all became just as legendary.

At virtually the same time, the James Bond film series began with Dr. No (1962). The success of that film and its followup From Russia With Love (1963) made Sean Connery a star. As I noted in my review of The Hill, Sir Sean was determined to prove to the world that there was more to his acting than Bond. He told Bond producer Albert Broccoli that he would like to work with Hitchcock. Strings were pulled and Connery was signed on as the lead in Marnie.

With Hitchcock behind the camera and Connery sharing the screen with 'Tippi' Hedren, who had just starred in The Birds, expectations were high for the film.

However, the finished product was viewed by 1964 audiences as disappointing, especially in comparison to Hitchcock's previous films. Plus the fact that, just a few months after its release, Marnie was overshadowed by the release of Goldfinger, the third Bond film & the one which kicked Bondmania into high gear.

Happily, some critics have reevaluated the film in subsequent years, to the point were some, such as Donald Spoto (author of the Hitchcock biography The Dark Side of Genius), have declared it Hitchcock's last great film, although I personally think that honor goes to Frenzy (1972).

Unlike Hitchcock's other films, Marnie isn't really a 'shocker,' but rather a psychological character study, which none of Hitchcock's other films could be classified as. I'd say that this departure from the norm is what initially turned audiences away.

The title character (Hedren) is a quiet, disturbed woman who has a penchant for landing a job and, after some time, vanishing taking her employer's money with her. As the film opens, her latest potential victim is widowed publishing company executive Mark Rutland (Connery). He takes a liking to her and even shares a subtle but memorable kiss with her one evening. True to form, however, Marnie steals money from his safe before disappearing. This moment, curiously, is the only point in the film that suspense is generated, as Marnie must time her actions precisely before a passing custodian sees her.

However, Mark manages to track her down. He was helped by the fact that his friend Sidney Strutt (Martin Gabel) had previously fallen victim to Marnie's tactics & that Strutt introduced her to Mark prior to that (Marnie, naturally, used a different name and a slightly different look at that time).

Here lies the best moment of the film: Mark has tracked Marnie down and has every right to hand her over to the police (I certainly would, no matter how attractive she may be). Instead, he blackmails Marnie into marrying him in hopes of understanding what drives her to do such things.

Once they are married, the rest of the film focuses on the Mark and Marnie facing off. She has a deep distrust of men and a fear of thunderstorms and the color red. Mark initially respects her wishes for privacy on their honeymoon cruise, but (presumably) rapes her shortly afterward when her frigidity proves maddening.

At the same time, Mark does show some kindess to Marnie, such as when he arranges for her to ride her horse, Telepathy (which Marnie is sadly forced to later kill when he breaks his leg). They also try their best to present themselves as an ideal couple, although Mark's sister-in-law Lil Mainwaring (Diane Baker) has her suspicions, fueled by her own love for Mark.

In the end, Mark discovers that Marnie sends the money she steals to her indifferent mother (Louise Latham). He also learns that, as a child, Marnie killed a sailor who was attacking her mother during a thunderstorm. After bringing all that agony out in the open, Marnie wishes to remain with Mark.

Although Hitchcock made four more films after this one, Marnie, in some ways, marked the end of an era. First and foremost, it was the last Hitchcock film with a musical score by Bernard Herrmann. The music Herrmann composed for Vertigo, North By Northwest, and Psycho was magnificent, and the same can be said for the score for Marnie, which may be the most romantic musical score for any film I've ever heard. However, studio pressure eventually led Hitchcock to instruct Herrmann to put a more pop and jazz beat to his music. When Herrmann refused, Hitchcock unilaterally cut off all ties with him during post-production of Hitchcock's next film Torn Curtain (1966). The music for that film was composed by John Addison.

Marnie was also the last Hitchcock film which had the traditional 'Hitchcock blonde' as a leading lady.

I, too, initially thought the film was too slow. But as a character study, it comes off better. Today, I'd be surprised if this film wasn't viewed by students of psychology. It is also, for me, the first great film Sir Sean did once he started drinking vodka martinis shaken not stirred.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

"He hasn't been himself of late." -Edwina Hyde, referring to her 'brother,' Dr. Henry Jekyll.

There are quite a few films with scenarios which just make you ask "WTF?!?" Some, like North(1994), deservedly disappear from cinemas as fast as they arrive. Others, like Twins(1988), turn out to be surprisingly watchable. What made the latter work was mainly the engaging performances of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito playing the most unlikely of twin brothers. Having Ivan Reitman, who had already directed gems such as Ghostbusters (1984), behind the camera was another plus.

Another good film with an outrageous premise is this take on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Even those who have never read the book know the basics: a kind doctor, one Henry Jekyll, ingests a self-made potion he theorizes will segregate the good and evil known to reside in each man. The potion, however, turns him into Edward Hyde, an individual uninhibited by ethics or conscience. The transformations between the two become sporadic until Jekyll, horrified to learn of the acts he committed as Hyde, begins to desperately find ways to kill Hyde forever. The book has been adapted for the screen numerous times over the decades.

One of the best was the 1920 adaptation with John Barrymore playing both roles (and famously distorting his handsome features to play Hyde). Eleven years later, Fredich March would win an Oscar for playing the dual roles in another film version. One common trap many of the Jekyll films fall into is the decision to have Mr. Hyde appear animalistic or wolf man-esque. Anyone who has read Stevenson's story will tell you that there is no such description of Hyde present. Hyde, while certainly ruthless, reflects the nature of humanity as much as Jekyll does.

This is why the story and its two main characters have become such a famous example of humanity's inner struggle of good and evil. Not surprisingly, the duality of the title characters were also influential in the creation of characters such as the Wolf Man, the Incredible Hulk and the Batman villain Two-Face.

The film version which was probably closest to Stevenson's story was I, Monster (1971), in which Christopher Lee plays the good doctor and his vicious counterpart. The 'Hyde' makeup on Lee is not over the top as it is in other versions and he expertly plays the differences and similarities of both characters. One interesting deviation, though, was that Lee played Dr. Marlowe and Mr. Blake, while all the other characters had the same names as in the story.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is Hammer Films's take on the classic story with a unique twist: the doctor turns into a beautiful but vicious woman. Reportedly, screenwriter Brian Clemens came up with the idea over lunch with director Roy Ward Baker. Baker initially thought Clemens was joking until Clemens wrote the script that very night. The good doctor (Ralph Bates) attempts to create the elixir of life with female hormones, which he obtains, amusingly enough, from cadavers given to him by two fellows named Burke and Hare (real-life serial killers who terrorized Scotland in the 1820s). When he takes the potion, he unexpectedly becomes the beautiful Edwina Hyde (Martine Beswick), who passes herself off as Jekyll's widowed sister. Naturally, it isn't long before Hyde begins to take over and, following the lynching of Burke and Hare, commits murders whom the public attributes to, yes, Jack the Ripper. One big plus of this film is the uncanny resemblance Bates & Beswick have to each other. Both are very good at playing roles which must have been a challenge. Needless to say, the film ends on the same note the story does.
Newer Posts Older Posts Home