Category Archives: Hitchcock


our Roger Ebert 

EbertJohn: I grew up in Chicago where this guy started out with Gene Siskel on the local PBS station. Forty years later I was still watching different incarnations of the Ebert formula. In fact I had suggested to a friend that we do the same thing on the web. I said I would even write both parts if he wanted. When that didn’t fly, I did it with my dog instead—

Sparky: I don’t blame the guy; you even got my name wrong. It’s Sparky, John, Sparky not Spanky!

John: Well I always liked those “Spanky and Our Gang” early shorts. But one way or another we’ve had almost 16,000 viewers from all parts of the globe (Norway, Taiwan, etc). And now we do old movies as well as new releases since many people watch Netflix or other movie options.

Sparky: So getting back to Ebert (if that really was his name), why do you think he was the best known movie critic?

John: People loved the discussion. It wasn’t just Pauline Kael telling us what to think, but two people discussing something they were participants in. It reminded me of college, arguing over Plato and the Existentialists. We felt we were a part of the dialogue—no, the best part of the dialogue. And Siskel and Ebert or Ebert and Roper demonstrated how that could be.

Sparky: So how is that different from today?

John: Now we are consumers, manipulated by the film industry. There’s big money at stake so they aren’t taking any chances. But with Ebert we were…artists, searching for meaning. Finding the memorable. Some people, like Hitchcock and Bergman, had enough confidence in their audiences to let them be players. Now, I don’t know. Roger Ebert’s time, our time, is over. Still it’s hard not to love a man who emblemized something so special.

Spanky: And we do that by keeping his spirit alive in our blog.

John: Four “Barks” out of four, my friend. Four “Barks” out of four.


MARRIED LIFE— ‘Til Death Do Us Part

Married Life, Ira Sach, director, 2008 

"Can you believe these prices? We should make movies about the 50's all the time."

HOOK: Does black comedy + Hitchcock-like plot = Ingmar Bergman Film?

LINE:  “’Til Death do us part.”

SINKER: Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper typecasting used to advantage.

JOHN: There are things I love here. The titles, the music, the 50’s cars and Rachel McAdams stellar performance. If it weren’t for Mad Men this would be a one of a kind. But the director is able to do something more with these male movie stars—play the audience with their previous roles. We immediately think Brosnan is really smarter than he is and, like James Bond, he is able to have any woman of his choosing. And Cooper, after his disturbing turn in Adaptation, is someone like Anthony Perkins after Psycho. We will never trust him again. Sach turns this type-casting against us and we find ourselves rooting for Cooper, who we are disposed to hate, and betrayed by Brosnan, who we thought would somehow be the rectifying force. The ending could have been stronger, but what a ride!

GO GO GO (3 GOs out of four)

SPANKY: I tend to agree with you on this one, John, but there are some things that looking back, don’t make much sense. For example, Patricia Clarkson (the betrayed wife) being so distraught about losing her husband when she, herself, is madly in love with someone else—a scene that intentionally misleads the audience. Her insistance that sex not love makes the best partnership (good foreshadowing of her affair but questionable considering her character). And the curious point where Brosnan is going to tell her about her husband’s affair knowing he is having one also, but doesn’t. That would have been a quick end to the film. Necessary to the plot perhaps but doesn’t really make much sense when you see it is his chance to grab the girl. I sort of liked the cleaning up after the party vignette seen through a window from outside at the finish, but the film had really ended five minutes earlier. And, I’m not sure what kind of audience this movie appeals to—disillusioned married people who are looking for a fun night out? It makes for good DVD watching though.  

BARK, BARK (2 BARKs out of four)

DID YOU KNOW: Speaking of the DVD, it offers three alternate endings. Spanky and I are glad Sach went with the one he did–otherwise we would have to say, “but the film had really ended twenty minutes earlier.”

VERTIGO— Why It’s Hitchcock’s Greatest


Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, director, 1954

HOOK: The actors stink, yet we are in the hands of the master who knows plot, characters, setting don’t matter. Playing the audience does.

LINE:  “If I could just find the key…and put it together.”

SINKER: Is it the Jimmy Stewart character or Alfred Hitchcock who is reenacting some psychosis from his life?” (The answer is below.)

JOHN: The icy blonde. Cool. Distant. Aloof. Detached. Troubled. Unattainable. The male gaze, Catholic guilt and a drive toward violence or control. Scotty (as was Jeff in Rear Window) is damaged goods, reliant upon yet intimidated by women. At first Stewart seems a kind of caricature of himself, and Novak a movie prop. But then he free-falls into deep obsession and gives a harrowing performance that catches us off guard, and she, we realize too late, is supposed to be a prop. What we seek is an explanation not of the terror of heights but of projection and deceit, for this is a process in which we the audience are active participats. Rear Window introduced the subject of our voyeurism and Psycho brings it to its inevitable, horrific conclusion. This film is terrifying in what it implies. We can point at Hitchcock as mirroring his own obsession. But it is also ours. 

GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four)

SPANKY: I love Stewart driving down San Francisco streets parked with those great 50’s cars. The wave splashing behind him and Novak as they kiss (to the crescendo of Bernard Herman’s score). There’s the dream sequence, an early denouement to the crime so we can watch Stewart cruelly reenact it with the woman. And at the most-famous-of-all-time director gives us a little wink and a nod of a surprise—as if to say, “who are you to think a movie can give you truth that is the Truth.” It’s only on the way home that we realize this one does. The fat, short, ugly Hitch was demeaning to these women stars that were set up on a pedestal, but isn’t that what we pay money for every day. To see Britney Spears, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Lindsay Lohan publicly humiliated? Turning the tables on them is our revenge. Turning the tables on us is Hitchcock’s.

"Good evening."

BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK (4 BARKs out of four)

DID YOU KNOW: Hitchcock originally wanted Vera Miles for the female lead, but she became pregnant before the shooting began. Jimmy Stewart who was kind of an everyman before this movie, developed a bit of an edge here that fortunately followed him to the remaining roles he was to play. Hitchcock went on to brow beat Tippi Hedren (His plan to mold Hedren’s public image went so far as to carefully control her style of dressing and grooming). In interviews, Naomi Watts has stated that her character interpretation in Mulholland Drive (2001) was influenced by the look and performances of Kim Novak in Hitchcock films


Airline service not what it used to be.

Airline service not what it used to be.

 Alfred Hitchcock, 1959

HOOK: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and his henchman Leonard (Martin “Call It My Woman’s Intuition” Landau)


GOSSIP:  The original title was the Man in Lincoln’s Nose, which was replaced by a reference to a line from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (in which Hamlet says, “I am but mad north-north-west.”). Hitch secretly filmed the UN building from a carpet-cleaning truck hiding a giant VistaVision camera in its back.


STORY: An advertising executive so at ease with changing his identity at the fall of a hammer, he has, by film’s end, become/done all of the things he’s wrongfully accused of being/doing at the beginning of the film.


JOHN: Its set-pieces are self-contained and wondrously illogical (the film was pitched on the strength of a scant three hastily-sketched scenarios: a murder at the UN; a chase across Mt. Rushmore; and a scene at an automobile plant), and at the end, were we given a moment for contemplation, the whole thing would fall like a house of cards. North by Northwest is Hitchcock at his most entertaining and contemptuous—a response to the failure the year before of Vertigo and the last time he really gave a shit about what the audience thought of his pictures. The success of this one paved the way for the highly personal films that would make Hitchcock a legend as opposed to a mere genius.


GO GO GO (3 GOs out of 4)


SPANKY: Stop and analyze the three main characters in this movie for both their on- and off-screen personas. Cary Grant is everything Alfred Hitchcock was not—thin, handsome, attractive to women. Eva Marie Saint is his duplicitous platinum-blonde untrue to Mason who deserves to suffer. And James Mason is the Hitchcock stand-in, giving directions (“Now what little drama are we here for today?”), wanting to torture Mr. Cool, claim the prize (Eva Marie) and escape to make future movies. And he does all this in picture postcard color so the audience thinks it’s a travelogue.


TWO PAWS UP (3 BARKs out of 4)


KEEPER: “That’s funny, that plane is dusting crops where there aren’t any crops.”



Strangers on the Train

hitchcock-trainAlfred Hitchcock, 1951


HOOK:  Weakness “crisscrossing” with evil.


GOSSIP:  Strangers on a Train came at a time when Alfred Hitchcock probably most needed it. Hitchcock had been enormously popular in England in the 1930s, and then came to Hollywood in 1940 for the Academy Award-winning Rebecca. For next few years he was quite successful, but by the late forties people were wondering if he hadn’t lost his touch. Strangers on a Train” turned that around, and he went on to enjoy a period of about a dozen years where he could do no wrong: Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho,The Birds.


STORY: En route from Washington, D.C., champion tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meets playboy Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). What begins as a chance encounter turns into a series of morbid confrontations, as Bruno manipulates his way into Guy’s life. Bruno is eager to kill his father and knows Guy wants to marry a senator’s daughter (Ruth Roman) but cannot get a divorce from his wife, Miriam (Laura Elliot). So Bruno suggests the men swap murders, which would leave no traceable clues or possible motives.


JOHN: Patricia Highsmith (the book is based on her novel) always gets us cheering for the wrong side (The Remarkable Mr. Ripley, Ripley’s Game, etc.) and Hitch brings his usual irony and suspense making this a most enjoyable ride. How evil is Bruno? He pops a kid’s balloon who shoots at him with a capgun. Don’t miss the scene at the tennis match when everyone is following the action back and forth but him (Bruno is focused on the Farley Granger character). The murder reflected in the wife’s fallen glasses is classic.


GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of 4)


SPANKY: This is one that may be on the DVD shelf when all the blockbusters are taken. How lucky. In a restored version it is crisp and caustic. Whatever happened to the movies, they were so great? John forgot to mention Hitchcock’s daughter as the know-it-all kid sister Bruno (and the audience) would like to strangle, Hitch hauling a base fiddle onto the train and a merry-go-round that spins out of control. This is the kind of movie that makes you want to go out and murder someone—“John, are you doing anything later tonight?”


TWO PAWS UP (4 BARKs out of 4)


KEEPER: “You’re a nasty boy, Bruno, but you can always make me laugh.”


James Marsh, 2008


HOOK:  The cost of dream
Hello, down there!

Hello, down there!


STORY: French aerialist Philippe Petit schemes to illegally walk a tightrope between New York’s World Trade Center twin towers. This spellbinding account of that obsession is a marvel of actual footage, reenactments, surreal black and white moments, interviews and a thought-provoking anticlimax in some strange ways foreshadows 9/11.


JOHN: The momentum of this extraordinary documentary is incredible. From the start is a caper sequence with Hitchcock overtones. There is something about film of the construction of the twin towers that triggers those incredible images of its destruction, and the Frenchman’s obsession to accomplish his goal at any cost to himself or his friends puts us in mind of those suicidal terrorists. And yet there is something about his passion that transcends this. And to dance above the clouds in a world that year dominated by Nixon and Watergate. Wow!  


GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of 4)


SPANKY: There isn’t a moment when the viewers don’t ask themselves what they would do either as Petit or as one of his friends. Most of us, like the Australian, would admit our trepidation and literally run away down the stairs of the building as fast as we could. But there is something in his accomplishing this feat that also suggests success comes at a price. He loses his girlfriend and, in a spotlight that focuses only on him, turns his back on the important part played by his co-conspirators, and they feel betrayed. No, we are content here on the ground, watching, but a film like this allows us to do both—experience something and watch ourselves experiencing something.


TWO PAWS UP (4 BARKs out of 4)


GOSSIP:  In the aftermath his apprehensive girlfriend, who the self-absorbed aerialist seems to disregard, says, “I saw what it meant to Philippe to become famous.” By the way, Petit has said his next big tightrope walk will take place between two of the giant statues on Easter Island. It seems easy compared to being 110 stories off the ground, but it’ll make a hell of a photo.


KEEPER: “But even if I should fail. To die in the exercise of your passion is beautiful.” 





Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958


PITCH: Woman as embodiment of a hidden, male rescue-fantasy.


STORY: A fat, short, bald director (Hitchcock) has a popular movie star, Jimmy Stewart, rejected by a cool platinum blonde Kim Novak. Stewart gets pissed; Novak falls to her death. His illness is cured. The film was passed over by the Academy for Gigi about a young woman trained to be a courtesan of a wealthy suitor. 

HOOK: This movie is the beginning of the end for Hitchcock (he would only do Marnie, Psycho and The Birds afterwards). The Sixties would reject big studios, big stars, big (fat, short, bald) directors, and here we see Hitch making a pre-emptive strike by starting to reject us. He takes the quintessential learn-from-your-mistakes, It’s a Wonderful Life guy and hangs him between life and death by a bent gutter—literally at the beginning, figuratively at the end. His friend Midge with a career designing brassieres is a maternal figure who desires him to be a more mature “big boy,” which he ultimately rejects. 


JOHN: Three things strike me 50 years later. 1) the shoulder-less Steward delivers real angst in his last scene. 2) With Paris Hilton, Brittney Spears and Lindsay Lohan we have come full circle—can a new Sixties be around the corner? And 3) The real genius of this film is in its pacing: It starts with a chase, but slows to an endless, dialogue-free, stalking of Novak through a San Francisco of meandering streets, a bridge to nowhere and classical facades suggesting eternal themes. The plot unwinds with half-expected surprises, but the ending is abrupt. We don’t have time to process it. We panic. This genuine, metaphysical moment shared by actor, director and audience transcends Hitchcock’s body of otherwise interesting but overly manipulative work. Bernard Herrmann’s music, yes; Saul Bass’s opening titles, no.  


 GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four)  


SPANKY: A revisit to this classic (it is Voyeurism 201; the earlier Rear Windowwas Voyeurism 101) reveals that the James Stewart character has no past and the Kim Novak woman too much of one (Novak is pretending to be Judy pretending to be Madeleine pretending to be Carlotta—too bad none of them can act). Animals have feelings too you know, but we don’t project them on other animals and then get pissed because they are deceiving us. Jimmy “yup,” “yup” Stewart should simply smell Kim’s butt and avoid high places. Laugh if you like but isn’t necrophilia a little creepy? 


“TWO PAWS UP” (3 BARKs out of four) 


KEEPER: “Don’t touch me; I just put on my face.”