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Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

July 12th, 2009 | File Under hitchcock | No comments yet

I’m way overdue to post about the Hitchcock endeavor, but some progress has been made. Here’s what I’ve added so far: The Lady Vanishes, Saboteur, Lifeboat, and The Trouble With Harry. I know; that’s not very many. The problem is, I got distracted by watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents through Netflix’s Watch Instantly. There are 39 episodes per season; so far I’ve seen almost two complete seasons. It’s entertaining just for the intro/outros from Hitchcock.

But on with the show. I’m at least going to record capsule reviews. First up: Lifeboat (1943), starring some people you’ve never heard of and Hume Cronyn. The plot: the first few days of a random assortment of torpedoed survivors adrift in a lifeboat in the north Atlantic. Really good; if Film Critics hadn’t spent so much time talking about it, I might not even have noticed that the entire thing was set on a lifeboat, which is a “technical feat” that evidently impresses industry folk. Interesting that it was made during World War II; most of the time a war has to end before it’s reasonable subject material. That said, I do find some of the stock-character-types amusing. For one thing, the German is a true dyed-in-the-wool Nazi superiority believer, not merely a military man doing his service. Of course, that makes for better conflict. I did find the clashes between several of the American characters odd, since they were so split along “class” lines — rich industrialist, poor working stiff, poor simple farm lad, rich reporter. Wait; where did anybody ever get the idea that reporters are rich? Anyway, the film does have some really striking moments, including the first time everybody in the boat wakes up and they re-do the headcount.

Next, The Lady Vanishes (1938); also mid-WWII (at least for the Brits). A surprisingly long set-up at a hotel, followed by the actual plot on board the train. The premise of the story was also explored in an episode of ‘Presents, and perhaps more disturbingly. Nevertheless, the confinement to the train and the utter surreality of the predicament of everyone around you telling you you’re crazy makes for a good tale. If you’re the slightest bit paranoid, you’ll relate well. I do think it’s weird that during the course of the story, you see up close that several of the other train passengers are *not* part of any conspiracy to treat the heroine like she’s imagining things, but they do so anyway for their own reasons. Like a lot of really old Hitchcock movies, I wish it didn’t have to have such a neatly wrapped up happy ending, but the explanation of why the old lady disappears (and how) is at least interesting. I recommend watching it, then watching the ‘Presents episode, which is entitled “Into Thin Air.”

The Trouble With Harry (1955) is called a dark comedy, although it is really not dark in tone; it just involves a dead body — so unless you consider Weekend At Bernie’s “dark comedy” we need to concoct a new term. It’s actually very light, almost too light for me. I think certain kinds of comedy don’t age well — verbal humor does, visual humor sometimes does, sitcom humor does not. For instance, I have seen a couple of episodes of I Love Lucy, and wasn’t tempted to laugh even once. The Trouble With Harry is a lot closer to being funny, but months after watching it what I remember most is the dramatic stuff; along the way we learn more and more about the departed “stranger” Harry, which continually changes what we think of the living characters. It’s an interesting device, and an interesting way to tell a story. It’s just not a laugh riot.

Finally, Saboteur (1942) is a “chase” movie, much in the vein of North By Northwest or a modern “edge of your seat” thriller. But it’s not a bad one, despite the lack of explosions. What really sticks out to me is that Hitchcock knew how to get his protagonist in and out of really tight situations without resorting to cliches. No helicopters crash into fighter jets, but people have to use their wits to get out of trouble, such as being mistaken for one of the conspirators and driven directly to HQ in a car-full of *real* conspirators who will kill you if they catch on. If Michael Bay were making this movie, the only way to escape would be to disarm the guards, shoot everyone, then leap from the car as it goes off a bridge. You probably won’t be on the edge of your seat if you watch this today, but try and think how you would get out of the jams — neither the villains nor the heroes are idiots here, which is a lot more interesting to watch.

Without giving too much away, somebody sabotages a US factory during the war, and the more we learn about it, the more it seems to be evil Americans who hate America or democracy, or just want to push America into WW2 to profit from it or to clean up financially in the aftermath of the war, etc etc. If that sounds like a laundry list of all of the “conspiracy” plots you’ve seen stretched over action movie scripts since the Cold War — congratulations. It is. And it was all here in 1942. I haven’t watched 24 in years, but they’ve retreaded every single one of those conspiracies multiple times, and done it without a single one of those non-idiot heroes and villains. So check out Saboteur if you want to see where ideas come from….