Klaatu barada Hitchcock! movies viewed

Rewatching THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) for Alien Visitors, what jumped out at me was how well the film shows the entire world is involved (better, I think, than War of the Worlds did). As the media cover the arrival of Klaatu’s saucer, then his reception and his disappearance, we get shots of France, the UK and Russia listening in; Klaatu shutting down electricity for a day (but not to hospitals, planes or anything else that would cost lives) affects cars, drawbridges, milking machines and soda fountains). The book Seeing is Believing points this film is pro-alien and pro-intelligence — when the U.S. government refuses to cooperate with Klaatu, he contacts Sam Jaffe’s genius scientist and brings together a conference of the world’s top researchers (contrast this with Village of the Damned or The Thing where the scientist’s awe at alien intelligence blinds them to the threat).

While this movie will be the center of my Friendly Aliens chapter, Klaatu is very Tough Love here: he wants us to end war not only for our own good but because if we make it into space with militaristic attitudes and nuclear weapons, we’ll pose a threat to other worlds, and that won’t be tolerated (contrast this with Space Children where the alien brain is purely humanitarian). All that said, this stands as a terrific, entertaining movie; the largely featureless Gort remains one of the great movie robots. “I came here to warn you that by threatening danger, your planet faces danger.”

STRANGER FROM VENUS (1954) is clearly riffing on Day the Earth Stood Still but not very well. Helmut Dantine plays a Venusian who shows up at a small pub in England where he saves Patricia Neal (female lead in the earlier film) from death and offers Earth his world’s advanced knowledge of peaceful nuclear tech if we’ll give up using it for war (the concern is that like Day the Earth Caught Fire we’ll destabilize Earth’s orbit, which will disrupt the rest of the Solar System). This departs from its predecessor by having the government immediately scheme to capture the Venusian ship that arrives to collect Dantine, in hopes of controlling the technology; that doesn’t do much when the film is so stiff, talky and stagebound. And why do the opening scenes make such a big deal of filming Dantine from behind when he’s got a perfectly unremarkable face?  “I would like to guess what you are thinking. If I am correct, I will be very disappointed indeed.”

The Alfred Hitchcock/David O. Selznick partnership did not go out on a win with THE PARADINE CASE (1947), a courtroom drama in which barrister Gregory Peck struggles to clear Alida Valli of murdering her blind war-hero husband for his money, a task complicated by his falling in love with the enigmatic woman. While Peck’s acting has improved since Spellbound, he doesn’t pull off the role (Hitchcock wanted Laurence Olivier or Joseph Cotton) and Valli can’t pull off the role, a seemingly elegant and noble woman who’s really gutter trash (something like Rebecca Danvers in Rebecca). In fairness, that’s because Hitchcock wasn’t an actor’s director and his advice pushed Valli to a minimalist performance (“Do nothing, but do it well.”); Ingrid Bergman could have pulled it off, but she and Selznick had fallen out. The end result is a dull, talky drama; Ann Todd plays Peck’s worried wife, a young Louis Jordan plays Valli’s possible lover and Charles Coburn and Charles Laughton have supporting roles. “He couldn’t possibly understand the sacrifice you were making — he’d never seen you.”

Adapted from a stage play, ROPE (1948) is generally considered a lesser Hitchcock effort, but I like it quite a lot. Farley Grainger and John Dall play a pair of would-be elitist ubermenschen (they seem to share the smug superiority of the Vanilla Isis Capitol attackers) who murder a classmate just to prove they can get away with it (they’re based on the once notorious killers Leopold and Loeb), then invite his family and fiancee over for dinner with the body hidden in a chest. Alas, they also invites James Stewart, a cynical philosopher whose lectures on the virtues of elitist murder inspired their act — and he starts to suspect they took him both seriously and literally. This was Hitch’s first color film and his first as an independent producer, and it shows his fondness for technique over acting — the film was shot to look as if it was made in one continuous take. Still, the performances of Stewart and the two leads are more than good enough for me to recommend it. “It just seems very funny you two being so intense about an old dead chicken.”

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8 responses to “Klaatu barada Hitchcock! movies viewed

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