Tag Archives: alfred hitchcock

Second-string Hitchcock: I Confess and Dial M For Murder

A number of Hitchcock fans rate I CONFESS (1953) as an underestimated masterpiece. I’m not one of them.

Set in Quebec, the film stars Montgomery Clift as Father Michael Logan. In an early scene, Michael takes confession from the church handyman, Otto (O.E. Hasse): he’s robbed and murdered Villette, a shady lawyer. Logan can’t tell the police (represented by detective Karl Malden) because what’s said in the confessional is between him, Otto and god.

Michael goes to check on Villette’s house but can’t explain to the police why he’s there. The police become more suspicious when witnesses report the killer was a priest (Otto disguised himself with a cassock). Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), Michael’s old girlfriend, gives him an alibi but it’s too early for the time of death. In the end, Michael ends up in court.

Villette, it turns out, was blackmailing Ruth. While Michael, still a civilian, served in WW II, stress led him to stop writing home to Ruth. She lost hope and married her boss, but when Michael returned, they spent the day together … which turned into a chaste night together when they were caught in a storm. Even for a more conservative era this seems like a thin reed to blackmail someone with, but Ruth paid up. Michael, therefore had reason to kill Villette. He didn’t, but how can he prove it without compromising the seal of the confessional?

Everything eventually works itself out a little too conveniently for me. And not entirely happily; like Suspicion, Ruth’s marriage hardly looks healthy enough to provide a satisfying ending. It was apparently a personal film for Hitch, a devout Catholic, and the cinematography is great. But it still doesn’t work for me. “God, perhaps has forgiven me thanks to you — but the police never will.”

I’m not aware of anyone claiming 1954’s DIAL M FOR MURDER is an unsung masterpiece; according to Films of Alfred Hitchcock, the director picked it to wrap up his obligations to Warner Brothers, and because he needed something undemanding to work on while he recharged his batteries.

Ray Milland steals the show as Tony, an unctuous fortune-hunter married to Margot (Grace Kelly). whom he knows has fallen in love with Mark (Robert Cummings), an American mystery writer. Tony explains to a shady former acquaintance, Swann (Anthony Dawson) that he’s worried she’ll leave him and take her money with her; if she dies first, well, her will makes him the sole heir. Tony has it all worked out how Swann can break into the flat and kill Margot while Tony and Mark are out; instead, Margot kills Swann. Tony quickly sees how he can make it look as Swann was blackmailing her over her affair with Mark, and murdered him.

This is a competent staged play, but nothing more than that. The mystery element in the script wears thin by the climax, which revolves around multiple keys and which characters know where to find them. Still, if it let Hitchcock recharge and do Rear Window next, I can forgive its weaknesses. “They call police flat-footed, but heaven save us from the talented amateur.”

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Strangers on a train get criss-crossed while Brits grow old: movies viewed

Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) opens with a striking sequence in which we follow Guy (Farley Grainger) and Bruno (Robert Walker) as they get out of their respective taxis to board a train — but all we see is their lower legs. Sober dark shoes on Guy, a tennis pro and serious young man; snazzier footwear for Bruno, an irresponsible idler.

Although they’re strangers, when Bruno strikes up a conversation with Guy it turns out he knows everything about Guy. Even given Guy is a well-known athlete, it comes off as something of a mancrush; it’s also reminiscent of every story I’ve heard or read about creepy guys insisting on intruding into a woman’s commute, ignoring that she clearly doesn’t want to talk. Guy reluctantly listens over lunch, where Bruno tells him a crazy idea he’s had. He wants his father dead, Guy (dating senator’s daughter Ruth Roman) would be better off his estranged, cheating wife were dead, but they’d be prime suspects. What if they each killed the other’s target? Guy doesn’t know Bruno’s father has no motive, who’d even think of suspecting him?

Guy has no interest in this but his comments convince Bruno they have a pact (again, rather like guys who are convinced they’ve bonded with the woman they’re talking to, even as the woman’s desperate to get rid of them). Bruno does indeed murder Guy’s wife (who’s refusing to divorce him now that her lover has dumped her) and then he starts asking Guy well, when do you whack my daddy? And if Guy reports him to the cops, Bruno’s going to explain about their supposed deal …

This has always been one of my favorite Hitchcock films but for some reason I couldn’t get into it. Was it just my mood, which was a little out of sorts at the time? Or was it one of those cases where I rewatch or reread something and without the shock of the initial encounter I see the flaws? The climax, for example, intercuts Guy playing in a tennis match with Bruno launching a scheme and the tennis simply doesn’t provide any tension (The Hitchcock Romance suggests it’s a deliberate kind of wink-wink at the audience, but I don’t buy it). And Roman is very stiff as the love interest. That said, it’s far from a bad film and deploys several Hitchcock tropes, such as the Innocent Man Accused (though ambiguously innocent, as Guy does indeed benefit from Bruno’s actions) and a character, a la Shadow of a Doubt, with a lurid interest in crime fiction (Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia, playing Roman’s sister). Leo G. Carroll plays Guy’s prospective father in law. “Now why should I stop off in Medcalf to kill a woman I’ve never met — unless it was a plot and you were in on it.”

CRISS CROSS (1949) is the noir film Stephen Soderbergh remade as The Underneath, starring Burt Lancaster returning to his LA neighborhood to see his family, totally not to see ex-wife Yvonne deCarlo, and even if he did, he’d certainly not try to resume their relationship … Where Soderbergh focused on family dysfunction with a largely clueless chump of a protagonist (evidence for John Rogers’ argument that neo-noir characters are never as smart as they think), this one is all about sexual obsession and desperation: Lancaster wants deCarlo so he strikes a deal with her current lover Dan Duryea (always a great, creepy sociopath on screen) to rip off an armored car (he’s one of the guards) but things don’t go the way he expects … “I was wrong — it was in the cards, and there was no way of stopping it.”

Werner Herzog’s WILD BLUE YONDER (2005) starts promisingly as an alien reveals his people have been living among us for years, but without successfully accomplishing anything, even alerting us to their presence (his display of their duplicate Washington DC is hysterical). Most of them film, though, is a drama about space flight which doesn’t work for Alien Visitors and isn’t very interesting either. “Those who arrived here just sucked.”

My big birthday event this year was watching 63 UP (2019), following 56 Up in the seven-year cycle of visiting with an assorted group of Brits first interviewed at seven years old. Once again we catch up with a scientist, politician, librarian (who passed since the previous film; two others don’t look in good shape this time out), teacher, cabbie and others as they ruminate on their kids, life since the last film, Brexit, the British class system and whether their seven year old selves foreshadowed who they are (I must admit, the sharp twists in their lives in previous installments look less drastic now). While only one interviewee dropped out, the solicitor, as usual, objects that he’s not the man he appears to be (““I’m three-quarters foreign, hardly a typical example of the class I’m supposed to represent.”) and one of the women let fly on what she sees as persistent sexism in the series (“You don’t seem to realize how much things changed for women in the 1970s.”). Fascinating as always. “We’re still in the middle of the longest engagement known to man.”

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Impossible spies, unconvincing actors: movies viewed

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) easily surpasses the first and second films in the series, starting with the opening in which malevolent bad guy Philip Seymour Hoffman puts a gun to Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) wife’s (Michelle Monaghan) head and threatens to pull the trigger if Ethan doesn’t deliver the McGuffin. Then we flashback to show how Cruise got married and also returned to the field to rescue protege Keri Russell from Hoffman (it doesn’t go well). Hunt wants revenge; Hoffman wants the McGuffin (in best Hitchcock tradition, we never learn what it is). Trouble is afoot. JJ Abrams directs this as a first-rate thriller, though the villain’s scheme (come up with a casus belli for another Mideast invasion) now feels very right-after-9/11 in spirit. With Laurence Fishburne as Hunt’s superior, Simon Pegg as a techie and Ving Rhames returning as Ethan Hunt’s right hand. “Please don’t interrupt me when I’m asking rhetorical questions.”

STAGE FRIGHT (1950) has aspiring actor Jane Wyman reluctantly agreeing to help former boyfriend Richard Todd save his mistress Marlene Dietrich from a murder rap over the death of her husband. Of course that proves more complicated than expected — and is Todd telling the truth about everything?

This strikes me as switching up a number of Hitchcock conventions: the Bad Girl (Dietrich) is innocent, at least of murder (in contrast to, say, The Paradine Case), while the male romantic lead on the run is guilty as sin (as opposed to Spellbound and multiple other films), though the relationship between Wyman and cop Michael Wilding is much like Shadow of a Doubt.

The movie, as a whole, though, doesn’t work for me. I’m not bothered by the opening flashback being a lie (something which multiple critics complained was a cheat) but Wyman’s a bland kewpie doll here (she’s rarely anything more). While I like the idea of her as the Actor of Justice vs. Dietrich’s Actor of Doom, and the theme that everyone in the movie is acting and posing in various ways, the film doesn’t do enough with it. The best thing about it is the supporting cast of British actors including Alistair Sim as Wyman’s wannabe rogue of a father (“It was only one cask of brandy.”), Sybil Thorndyke as Wyman’s dotty mom and Joyce Grenfell in a bit part at a charity fete. “You’re not by any chance thinking of changing horses in mid-stream?”

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Racers, assassins, colonials: movies viewed

FAST FIVE (2011) strikes me as a game-changer for the Fast and Furious franchise, replacing the usual formula of street racing and scantily clad women (there’s one brief scene of that and the race takes place off-camera) with a caper film. Following directly on the ending for Fast & Furious, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster and Paul Walker relocate to Brazil. Instead of hiding out, they find themselves in the gunsights of Brasilia’s most powerful crimelord and of Dwayne Johnson as a federal agent out to drag them back to stand trial.

The solution? Rip off the crimelord’s money from an impregnable vault at police headquarters, thereby giving them enough cash to retire beyond the reach of any of their pursuers. This requires bringing together most of the cast members from the first four films (Gail Godot is the standout name) and culminates with literally tearing the vault out of the police building and dragging it behind their cars through the street. The filmmakers were obviously prepared for this to be the last in the series — it has the kind of happy ending that could resolve everything but doesn’t rule out more sequels — but shifting things up clearly worked, given how many more sequels we’ve had. “This just went from Mission Impossible to Mission In-Freaking-Sanity!”

The French film La Femme Nikita inspired both the U.S. Point of No Return and the Chinese THE BLACK CAT (1990), which I caught last weekend. Like the other films (and the Peta Wilson TV show) this has a female drifter kill a cop, go to jail, then get recruited by a black ops group as a counter-terrorist assassin. Unlike what I remember of the others the protagonist here is  a formidable killer even before she gets trained; said training includes an implanted microchip that enhances her performance but I honestly don’t see much difference. Not up to the French original. “From this moment on, we’re the only ones who can help you.”

Alfred Hitchcock had wanted Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman for the lead roles in The Paradine Case; in 1949, he got to use them both in UNDER CAPRICORN but that didn’t help this turkey. Michael Wilding plays a younger son of the aristocracy, arriving in 1800s Sydney to make his fortune. He becomes a friend and business associate to surly Joseph Cotton, a former groom turned convict who’s now a wealthy landowner; complicating things is Wilding’s crush on Cotton’s alcoholic wife, Ingrid Bergman, whom he knew from childhood. This was based on a well-regarded historical novel (adapted for Aussie TV in the 1980s if you’re curious) but it doesn’t work at all, and both Cotton and Bergman feel miscast in their roles. With Cecil Parker as the pompous Aussie governor, I’m inclined to suggest The Court Jester as a double bill for his equally unappealing leader there. “A gentleman’s word in Australia doesn’t mean much.”

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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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Hancock and Hitchcock: Movies viewed

HANCOCK (2008) stars Will Smith as the drunken, reckless, possibly immortal metahuman whose interventions cause more property and collateral damage than they’re worth, only he can’t seem to care. Jason Bateman plays a PR Man who offers to give Hancock a makeover into the kind of hero people want to be around — but why does his wife find Hancock so familiar? This is mostly a collection of familiar comics cliches — Hancock himself amounts to Superman with Guy Gardner‘s personality — but I’d suggest double-billing it with the superior The Old Guard for another immortal hero. “Do I have permission to touch your body? It’s not sexual.”

Alfred Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND (1945) stars Ingrid Bergman as a pychoanalyst who falls for Gregory Peck as the new head of the clinic she works at, replacing her mentor Leo G. Carroll. Unfortunately it turns out Peck is an imposter and an amnesiac whose traumatic memory loss may be in response to murdering the real doctor; can Bergman find out the truth before the cops catch up with them?

Lovers On The Run (and posing as married) is familiar Hitchcock stuff but this lacks the tension of Thirty-Nine Steps or Young and Innocent; the police are ineffective so the real tension lies in Bergman’s efforts to break through to Peck’s repressed memories. It doesn’t work but the surreal nightmare sequence designed by Salvador Dali (see below) is certainly memorable.

Peck is another problem, a movie newbie who isn’t strong enough to make his role work. Bergman, however, is great. While the movie trots out the standard cliches of the era that as a professional Bergman is a cold fish who can’t be a real woman (“Women make the best psychiatrists until they fall in love, then they become patients.”), she’s the one who drives the action. Despite falling love she remains a good enough psychoanalyst to crack the case and expose the real killer; Peck is the equivalent of the pretty-girl romantic lead who needs the hero to save her. “You are going to hate me a lot before we’re through.”NOTORIOUS (1946) reunites Bergman and Hitchcock for one of the latter’s classics — though before this rewatching, I’ve never really liked it (I’ve no idea now why not). Bergman plays the patriotic daughter of an American Nazi, drowning her shame in wild parties and booze (the Production Code tidied this up a bit). American agent Cary Grant romances her, then reveals he wants her to spy on Nazi Claude Rains, who’s engaged in sinister doings in South America. Bergman agrees, becoming first Rains’ lover, then his wife, but will he catch on? Does Grant care about Bergman or is she just a tool for him to use?

This is a first-rate film all around, though it took a long trail to get there. Hitchcock, screenwriter Ben Hecht and producer David Selznick fought over lots of elements (Selznick vetoed having the Rains and Grant characters go over a cliff together) and the Production Code wasn’t happy with even a hint of immoral behavior (there are hints, but during the post-war period the Code’s Joe Breen loosened up some, particularly on prestigious A-list films). The final results are well worth seeing. “It’s a lot of hooey — there’s nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh.”

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Christmas, ghosts and aliens: movies viewed

It’s time for Christmas movies again, but of course with Alien Visitors underway, I have other films mixed in

I kicked off my Yuletide viewing with the lesbian Christmas rom-com HAPPIEST SEASON (2020) in which Mackenzie Davis asks girlfriend Kristen Stewart to come home and meet the parents (Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen). Only on the drive there, Davis reveals that oh, I didn’t actually come out to them last summer, so you’ll have to pretend to be my roommate. Once they arrive, she proceeds to blow off Stewart to hang with her old friends, leaving Stewart bonding with Davis’ ex (whom Davis did not treat well, it turns out). While the movie explains Davis is terrified of disappointing her parents by coming out to them (and a gay friend points out that’s entirely possible), she still comes off as a jerk; if the leads and the supporting cast weren’t so likable I doubt this would work. “I’m not shaming you, I just think the choice you’re making is dumb.”

PARANORMAN (2012) is an unimpressive, dreary film about a teenage boy who’s an outcast in both his family and his small town because he sees dead people. Then it turns out he’s the only one who can avert an ancient witch’s curse on the community but will anyone listen? There’s something dismal and downbeat about this that didn’t work for me, and the Outcast shticks are too cliche to engage me.. “Not believing in the afterlife is like not believing in astrology.”

KRONOS (1957) is the Giant Robot Film With a Difference, the difference being the utterly nonhuman appearance of the eponymous mechanoid (“It’s been named Kronos for the terrifying giant of Greek mythology!”) feeding off human energy sources while mind-controlling scientist Morris Ankrum to further its agenda. This starts weak — the character bits at the start aren’t as winning as they’re meant to be — but picks up steam as it progresses. “I can’t get over the feeling this is the calm before the storm — and at any moment the storm is going to break.”

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) remakes the Don Siegel film, setting it in San Francisco and making it a metaphor for the death of the counter-culture: pod people carry on the same jobs the originals had (from their perspective they are the originals, but improved), but simply stare listlessly at the walls between tasks, rather than talking, stretching, reading … As director Philip Kaufman says, they’re the kind of employees and consumers big business would love to have, with none of that annoying individuality gumming up the works. The F/X get heavy-handed in spots but overall this is an excellent remake — though I could have done without longtime friends Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland turning out to be secretly in love (a trope I dislike enough I’ll probably blog about it t some point).. “Why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?”

After reading in Superman vs. Hollywood about the genesis of SUPERMAN III (1983), I’m inclined to think part of the problem is that the Salkinds just took all the ideas they’d considered in production and didn’t let go of any of them: there’s Superman battling his own dark side, a killer computer (the book suggests it’s a holdover from when Brainiac was going to be the villain), Robert Vaughn doing a Luthoresque tycoon (watching so soon after the first two films, I can appreciate how much his dialog resembles Gene Hackman’s) and of course Richard Pryor as a computer super-hacker. The book says Pryor had mentioned during an interview that he’d love to be in a Superman film; given he was an accomplished, successful comedian, the Salkinds snapped him up, then Warner Brothers refused to let them trim him back any. The results is Pryor taking up way too much screen time for the caliber of his performance with the plot awkwardly filling in around him.

Another problem is that Margot Kidder and the Salkinds no longer being on speaking terms, the film sidelines Lois in favor of Annette O’Toole’s Lana Lang. I like O’Toole but as Siskel and Ebert observed, her romance with Clark makes Superman irrelevant; if Clark was merely the good-natured, gentle guy he seems to be, nothing would have changed. That’s a poor substitute for the Clark/Lois/Superman triangle. And there’s the oddity of Vaughn’s bimbo girlfriend hiding the fact she’s a genius (“How can Kant say that absolute categories can’t exist in transcendental thought?”); I like the idea, but it needs a payoff that never materializes.The film’s only saving grace is that Reeve still delivers; his evil Superman is surprisingly good. “You know what I hate? Greed.”

A cast including diva reporter Tallulah Bankhead, U-boat captain Walter Slezak, swabbie William Bendix and radio operator Hume Cronyn are stranded in a LIFEBOAT (1944) after Slezak sends a merchant marine vessel to Davy Jones (his sub was hit soon afterwards). Now the survivors have to work together despite personal issues, political conflicts and the question whether they can trust the stinking Nazi. This is a Hitchcock film I admire more than I like, but I do like it and there’s a lot to admire in the tight little one-set film (not so tight behind the screens — Hitchcock finished it late and over budget). “He’ll eat our food, drink our water and double-cross us the first chance we get.”

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Small-town Hitchcock, Evil Superman and some TV viewed

Rewatching SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) in the course of an Alfred Hitchcock rewatch makes me appreciate how much it has in common with HIichcock’s earlier films — not just the camera work but the quirky supporting characters, the family dynamics (reminiscent of some of the parts of Young and Innocent, for instance) and a female lead becoming restless in her current station (as Hitchcock Romance says, similar to Joan Fontaine in Rebecca or Suspicion).That said, this film still feels unlike anything else of Hitch’s work. Joseph Cotton is Charlie, the “Merry Widow Killer,” who escapes a police dragnet and holes up in a small town with his relatives, including his namesake “Young Charlie” (Teresa Wright). It’s a warm, vibrant town where everyone knows everyone and where Henry Travers (as Wright’s dad) and coworker Hume Cronyn can happily dicker over which mystery’s method would work best in real life; it makes for a sharp contrast with Charlie’s view of the world as a cesspool where dog eats dog. Can Charlie hide there? Will detective MacDonald Carey open Young Charlie’s eyes to the threat? This one remains a personal favorite. “This world is a hell — why does it matter what happens in it?”

BRIGHTBURN (2019) is an obvious Superman riff in which a young couple rescue a baby from a downed space capsule; when his powers manifest as a tween he immediately begins using them in bad ways, from killing people who diss him to stalking the pretty classmate he’s crushing on. Dark Superman is an idea that has been done a lot — Super-Menace in the 1960s (depicted by Curt Swan here), Stalinist and Nazi alt.Supermen in recent years and the Superman-inspired Irredeemable — and all of them better than this; as Rolling Stone‘s review puts it, it’s like a sub-par version of The Omen where everyone who gets in the kid’s way dies horribly. The implication here is that Brightburn is some form alien advance guard (voices in his head keep telling him to “take the planet”) though that makes him less interesting than if he were just corrupted by power.  “My real parents were — superior.”

The third season of YOUNGER (s2 review here) has Liza and Josh coping with familiar relationship issues (he wants kids; she’s done with that) and the added sexual experience age gives her (“Everything I want to try, you already did with your husband.”); at work Liza and Kelsey have to deal with a tech bro millionaire moving in and trying to remake the publishing house. Once again things fall apart at the season ender when Josh catches Liza kissing her boss just when he was about to propose (he conveniently forgets giving her permission to stray at least once in an earlier episode); more interesting is Liza finally confessing the truth to Kelsey. Still fun. “You put your workout bench in my bedroom?”

The BBC’s 1981 miniseries of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is more faithful to the John Wyndham novel than the film version, with the exception of making the triffids a much larger menace earlier on. The faithfulness has both good and bad sides, the good being that the triffids are just as alien as in the book and without the convenient weakness that ensures their destruction in the movie. On the down side, this carries over Wyndham’s sexism (“Most women want babies — husbands are just a means to an end.”) and bogs down in talk as we get away from the imminent triffid threat and into the mundane job of rebuilding civilization; focusing primarily on the triffids turns out to have been a wise move on the film-makers’ parts. And like Wyndham the prospect that blind people from before the catastrophe might have some useful advice doesn’t occur to anyone, nor does anyone even consider that the blindness might be temporary, which would complicate the moral calculus. All that said, this did have some excellent moments.

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A saboteur, a superman and assorted aliens: movies viewed

Some years back I caught SABOTEUR (1942) for my film book Screen Enemies of the American Way (you’ll notice the paranoid warning in the poster about “the man behind your back!”). Rewatching now, I can see how much it fits the old of 39 Steps and Young and Innocent, with Robert Cummings framed as an Axis saboteur, going on the run to find the real criminal and falling in love with Priscilla Lane in the process; it also foreshadows North by Northwest in having the final showdown on top of an American monument (the Statue of Liberty here). This has some great little details like the way the Nazis talk about their families, but overall it’s merely competent, not stellar. “Don’t tell me my duty — it makes me sound so stuffy.”

SUPERMAN (1978) was an immense landmark in its day, a serious superhero film in a time when superheroes on screen were defined by the Adam West Batman rather than Tim Burton’s Batman or the MCU. My big complaint when I first saw it was that despite it’s many merits, the comic relief bits (Luthor’s lackeys Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty) detracted from the whole; now I find them forgivable.  The film starts in the icy, crystalline world of Krypton, with Marlon Brando as Jor-El, then shifts to small-town America for the Kents (Glenn Ford plays Pa Kent) to find a crashed spaceship and realize the toddler inside it is no ordinary boy; finally we get Metropolis, where we go pure comic book.

After reading about and writing about INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1958) for Screen Enemies, I honestly don’t think I have any new insights, other than how darn good it is (despite a couple of howling errors in logic). Well-acted but also creepy as hell in a way earlier stories on this theme, such as Heinlein’s Puppet Masters, weren’t; where Heinlein’s a flat out warning against tyranny, the pod people replacing us with emotionless doubles is creepier and much more flexible as a metaphor (a point I’ll come back to in its own post). “Love. Desire. Ambition. Faith. Without them life’s so simple.”

FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986) was an excellent Disney movie that Disney unfortunately marketed as an E.T. knockoff (it isn’t). A boy walks home through the woods in 1978 only to arrive home eight years later; what the heck happened? And what’s his connection to a UFO government scientist Howard Hesseman is investigating? Sarah Jessica Parker has a small bit as a helpful intern. Well worth watching. “Oh my god, you’ve seriously never seen a music video?”

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957) follows the standard tropes of 1950s monster movies — strange things happen, monster is identified, science finds counter-weapon — but the creature is unique: meteor fragments that grow when exposed to water, forming monoliths and then shattering under their own weight. The fragments then grow and break, scattering the pieces across the landscape — and guess what, a typical small town is sitting right in their path! With a creature that can’t be reasoned with or intimidated any more than a Terminator, what can the town do? An effective low-budget film. “It’s the commonest material you can find — but everywhere it turns up, somebody dies!”

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Suspicion and Doom: movies viewed

When I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s SUSPICION (1941) in college, I found the ending frustrating and unsatisfying to the point the whole movie fell apart. Rewatching, I see I was right about the end (spoilers will follow) but the film up to that point is very good. Joan Fontaine plays Lina, the spinsterish daughter of a wealthy family (I’m impressed she’s able to come off quite different from her Rebecca spinster — smarter and more confident, though just as frustrated with her current role in life) who meets, falls for and marries the charming Johnnie (Cary Grant).  Only after the wedding does Lina learn the downside: Johnnie’s a spendthrift who optimistically thought she had money enough to support them.

Johnnie doesn’t run out when he’s wrong, but he can’t stop spending money they don’t have, gambles compulsively and steals from his employer, lying to her all the while. Then Lina develops a suspicion that he’s found a solution: murder her for a life insurance payoff. She doesn’t want to believe it but after Johnnie’s best friend Nigel Bruce dies before reclaiming the money he loaned Johnnie for a failed investment scheme …

The original plot would have followed the novel Before the Fact: Lina lets Johnnie poison her but then he unwittingly mails a letter to Lina’s mother spelling out what he’s done. Justice will be served. However suicide was banned by the Production Code and RKO’s production head freaked out about Grant as a villain, even trying to cut out all the scenes that made him look bad (the 100-minute movie ended up 55 minutes before RKO put the footage back in). So we get an ending in which it turns out everything was in Lina’s head; Johnnie’s actually going to take the “honorable way out” and poison himself. She convinces him, instead, to come home, face the music and start over.

I’m sure that ending could have been made workable, but here it’s an unsatisfying anticlimax. Even if Johnnie’s not a murderer, he’s been a really bad husband — lying, irresponsible, selfish — and the ending doesn’t convince me he’s really changed. That said, it’s great looking and well acted, with Fontaine snagging an Oscar for her role. “I think I’m falling in love with you and I don’t quite like it.”

SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY (2007) was in my queue even before I started Alien Visitors (which will include a chapter on alien superheroes), though it won’t get more than a passing mention. The first in a line of DC Universe animated films, producer Bruce Timm deliberately broke with the DCAU in voice casting and visual style; Adam Baldwin plays Superman, who wages the fight of his life — and death — against the near-unstoppable alien juggernaut Doomsday, much to Lex Luthor’s horror (“Something I’ve dreamed of for years was taken away from me by an intergalactic soccer hooligan!”). After creating a Superman clone to serve as his proxy, Luthor feels better, but then the clone starts to develop ideas of its own … Some of the visuals didn’t work for me but overall very good; the fate of Toyman is a genuine shock. Anne Heche plays Lois, James Marsters voices Luthor and DCAU veteran Cree Summers plays Lex’s sidekick Mercy Graves.  “At least I get to kill Superman after all.”

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