Movie of the Day


So much has been written about Suspicion, and every Hitchcock film, that it is hard to know what to say about it. The one thing that comes to mind is that it sets itself apart from other films of the ’40s as an early successful example of subjective filmmaking. In the ’60s, Roman Polanski would experiment with subjective filmmaking by having Catherine Deneuve appear in every scene Repulsion (1965), and capturing Mia Farrow in practically each frame of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and telling the stories completely from their perspective. With Suspicion, Hitchcock was experimenting in this direction more than two decades earlier. It is recorded that the director did not like the title Suspicion, which he  found lurid, but the studio forced it on him. Hitchcock preferred the title Johnnie, which would have made this a character study of Cary Grant’s character, a directionless playboy with few ambitions other than marrying into a rich family. However, this is a story told almost entirely from the perspective of Joan Fontaine’s character, Lina, who is swept off her feet by Johnnie and promptly marries him, only to begin suspecting that he wants to kill her for her inheritance.

Throughout his career Hitchcock delighted in setting up a narrative structure or establishing sympathies with a certain character, only to turn around and break his own rules. An example of this can be found in Rear Window (1954), when James Stewart’s character, who is the prism through which all of the information in the film is filtered, falls asleep and the audience, but not Stewart, sees the suspected killer carry his suitcase out into the night. This is an intentional exception to the narrative perspective, which give the audience additional information in a ploy to heighten suspense. The exceptions in Suspicion in are few and early. The opening scene, one of the most famous in cinema history, begins in complete darkness, as Johnnie bumps into Lina’s leg in a train compartment darkened by passing through a tunnel. Thus the film begins with the very beginning of their relationship, with Johnnie, who has his back turned to Lina, coming into her sight for the first time. When Johnnie arrives unexpectedly to take Lina to church, she runs to get her hat and coat, and Johnnie, and the audience, see that Lina has clipped a photo of Johnnie from her newspaper and put it into her book, letting us and Johnnie know that Lina is interested in him, though she remains blissfully unaware of the fact. This puts Johnnie at an advantage as he tries to heighten her interest by playing hard to get. One of the most famous sequences in the film comes around one hour in, as Lina, Johnnie, and Johnnie’s old friend Beaky are playing a Scrabble-like game called “Anagrams.” While Beaky searches for the letters he needs to make “murderer,” Lina imagines that her husband is plotting to kill his friend and business partner in order to claim his assets, and Hitchcock shows us exactly what she is thinking in an exaggerated process shot showing Beaky flailing his arms and screaming while on an obviously separate piece of film, the side of a cliff zipped by. Realism was not what Hitchcock was after here, but rather the impression the shot made on viewers as a way to convey Lina’s state of mind.

Hitchcock also does an interesting experiment with expressionistic lighting in this film in order to reflect Lina’s mental state. The house, which is so brightly lit when the newlyweds first enter it, gradually becomes a trap for Lina. Later, the moody lighting casts the shadows of the stairway railings, suggesting Lina is trapped behind bars.

Unfortunately, this masterful film is deeply marred by an awkward, almost nonsensical ending, which the studio, fearing ruining Cary Grant’s screen persona by having him play a real murderer, forced on Hitchcock. It turns out that all of Lina’s suspicions were unfounded, and they go to live happily ever after, despite the fact that Johnnie is at best a thief and a liar. Hitchcock’s planned ending involved Lina allowing the man she loved so dearly to kill here, followed by a guilty but carefree Johnnie whistling as he mailed a letter Lina had written to her mother which would surely convict him. Hitchcock’s cameo in the film shows the director dropping an envelope in a letterbox in the village, indicating that perhaps he was still entertaining the idea of his own ending during filming. Of course, we can only imagine how much better the film would have been had Hitchcock been allowed to make this ending.

Movie of the Day

That Touch of Mink

By 1962, Cary Grant’s career had waxed and waned several times and the triumph of North by Northwest in 1959 represented something of a comeback for the star. In 1961, Doris day was the number one box office attraction in the world, but out of respect for Grant’s long and distinguished career, which was entering its fourth decade, Day graciously allow her costar’s name to proceed hers in the billing for That Touch of Mink. The pairing with Day allowed Grant to enjoy a huge box office smash, something he had not had since To Catch a Thief in 1955. Day had just made two successful movies with Rock Hudson, who reportedly wanted the lead for this film, but the director ultimately opted for Grant. Hudson would have had a hard time being convincing in this role as a suave, powerful millionaire with the world at his fingertips, something which came with considerable ease to Grant.

Doris Day plays Cathy Timberlake, an out-of-work computer operator in search of a job. Still coasting on the squeaky-clean image built up in her films of the 50s, Day character is a pure but resourceful all-American girl who lives with her automat waitress friend Connie (Audrey Meadows of TV’s “The Honeymooners”, whom Grant rallied for in casting). Connie seems more concerned with preserving Cathy’s virginity than Cathy herself. Indeed, all of the women, and a few of the men (notably Dick Sargeant of “Bewitched” in a small role) are absolutely terrified of sex. The arch villain here is the smarmy Everett Beasley (John Astin of “The Addams Family”), a social security worker who hands Cathy her unemployment checks and commits the ultimate offense by inviting her to his apartment for a TV dinner. Even the suave, rich and handsome Grant character is vilified for seeming to want to bed Cathy, who breaks out in hives at the sight of a queen-sized canopied bed.

The fact that Doris Day was 40, and Grant was pushing 60 at the time of filming makes this scenario seem laughably outdated, even by the moral standards early ’60s America. This is a sex comedy with very little sex. But as with any Cary Grant film, at the very least we have two beautiful stars sharing the screen to look at, and the scene in which the two ride a freight elevator up to his future apartment in an unfinished skyscraper is a classic and magical moment in cinema.

Movie of the Day

The Notorious Bettie Page

Every so often there is a biopic on a subject that is just a little too close to one’s previous interests, and this can actually lead to wanting to avoid these films, believing they would definitely “get it wrong” or for fear that they might shatter firmly held convictions about that person. I felt that way when Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) came out, and I was miffed that Jennifer Jason Leigh had been allowed to portray one of my favorite writers, Dorothy Parker. When I finally saw it recently, more than ten years after it was first released, I thought it was great and found Leigh’s performance wonderful. I felt the same apprehension when The Notorious Bettie Page came out a few years ago. A big fan of the pin-up queen since I was in high school, I was sure this film would be way too Hollywoodized for my taste. When I finally got around to seeing it, I found it much better than anything I could have expected.

Gretchen Mol, who I only knew from a bit role in Wood Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown (1999) turns in a restrained performance in a role that could have very easily sunken into caricature. Mol is a far too thin to play Bettie, but she gets the mannerisms and attitude perfect. One of the main complaints critics leveled at the film when it was released was that it goes to lengths to recreate the photo sessions that produced the stills and grainy films that secured Page’s reputation, but did little to reveal what was going through the model’s mind as she progressed to more and more risqué work. This is the type of complaint that comes from viewers who have grown too used to having everything explained to them. The lack of a voice-over narration here is one of the film’s strong points, as it works to evoke the era rather take on the air of a confession. Instead, the film is structured around a scene that has Page sitting outside a Senate committee hearing, waiting to be called to testify in an official probe into the effect of pornography on American youth. Her story unfolds through her reading over letters from her family and flashbacks.

Part of the enduring appeal of the real Bettie Page photos is that the model seemed completely at ease with her body and posing nude, so there was no daunting obstacle for her to overcome to get to that point, and didn’t really see herself as being victimized or exploited. Even after she stopped modeling and became a born-again Christian, she was never ashamed of what she had done. So while there were stages in her life, there were not such huge, dramatic shifts between them. That is what makes this film subtle, rather than “empty,” as some critics described it.

Movie of the Day

The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop’s Wife tries hard to be an uplifting Christmas film like another post-war drama, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), but falls a bit short in its attempt to pull at the heartstrings. The script is not as tight, and the direction not as consistent as Capra’s perennial holiday favorite, but there is enough here to make a pleasant little film.

The story involves an angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) who is sent to earth to help an Episcopalian bishop (David Niven) who is frustrated in his attempts to raise funds to build a new church. Once the bishop is finally convinced that Dudley is an angel, he assumes he is there to help get his church built, but his true purpose is there to give guidance to a man who has lost touch with his wife and children, as well as his parish. Meanwhile, Dudley finds himself falling for the title character, played by Loretta Young. The plot isn’t exactly riveting, but there a plenty of diversions, such as getting to see Cary Grant ice skate and play the harp (both done with the help of doubles, but who cares?). And Elsa Lanchester shines in a small role as the family maid, who beams whenever Dudley enters the room.

It’s a Wonderful Life fans will get a kick of Karolyn Grimes, who played George Bailey’s youngest child Zuzu, pelting Robert J. Anderson, who played young George Bailey, with a snowball, through the help of a little divine intervention.

Movie of the Day


Twelve years after Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman shared the screen in Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), which was perhaps the best romantic film pairing ever, the two stars met again in Indiscreet, a romantic comedy directed by Stanley Donen. While Notorious was one of the most serious and ominous love stories ever produced in Hollywood, Indiscreet is light and sumptuous.

A lot had happened in the intermediate dozen years. Bergman had ridden out the waves of the overblown scandal caused by her leaving her first husband in favor of Roberto Rosellini, and had only recently been allowed to return to Hollywood, which resulted in the success of Anastasia (1956). Grant was on the third of his five marriages, which, at 13 years, was by far the longest, but was heading for yet another divorce. At the time of filming Bergman was 43, and Grant was 55. The stars’ ages add a lot of charm to the film. It is hard to think of a director today, except perhaps Woody Allen, who would make a romantic comedy with actors this age.

The story revolves around Anna Kalman, London-based stage actress who has enjoyed a long career but is getting a bit bored with the stage and has long since given up hopes of finding the man of her dreams when she falls in love at first sight with Philip Adams, a visiting American diplomat. Adams, who admits straight out his is married but separated, feels the same way about her and takes a NATO job and a flat in the same building to be near her. The first half of the movie could seem a bit slow by modern standards, although there are little treasures, such as the privilege of seeing Cary Grant dance a reel.

Things pick up considerably slightly past the midway mark when Anna finds out through her brother-in-law, who is orchestrating the NATO job, that Adams has been keeping a little secret. Bergman excels in playing a woman scorned, who develops a plan to teach her lover a lesson. The tension between the two raises to a fever pitch before before being resolved, in true romantic comedy tradition, in the final line of the film.

Movie of the Day

The Cat’s Meow

Most movie fans know William Randolph Hearst as the newspaper magnate who inspired the fictitious character Charles Foster Kane, and later became the real-life adversary of Citizen Kane and its creator Orson Welles, when he was understandably unhappy with the unflattering character obviously based on him, and used all of his considerable resources to try to make the film disappear. Hearst’s image today has largely been shaped by Welles dark portrait and the ensuing clash between these two media pioneers. However, as Louis Pizzitola’s exhaustive study Hearst Over Hollywood makes clear, the newspaper mogul had a central role in shaping early Hollywood. Hearst was involved in creating the scenarios and production of the groundbreaking serial Perils of Pauline. When the millionaire met starlet Marion Davies around 1919, he took responsibility for managing her career and established Cosmopolitan Pictures to churn out costume dramas featuring Davies, before he reluctantly allowed her to pursue comedy, where her natural talents lay. In 1924, Hearst was in talks to consolidate production facilities with another film pioneer, Thomas Ince, known as “the father of the Western,” who played a role in moving the center of American film production from the East Coast to Hollywood.

On November 15, 1924, Thomas Ince was one of 15 or so guests of Davies and Hearst on his 280-foot yacht the Oneida. Ince was the guest of honor as his 42nd birthday was falling that weekend. Ince was taken off board on the morning of November 19th. What happened in between has become the stuff of legend. As Elinor Glin (Joanna Lumley), the romantic novelist who narrates this take on events says:

History has been written in whispers, and this is the whisper told most often. The yacht, you see, belonged to William Randolph Hearst.

The “whisper told most often,” which was also reported in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, was that Hearst, angered over a real or imagined dalliance between Davis and Charlie Chaplin, took the gun he kept for his hobby of shooting down seagulls and accidentally shot Ince. The powerful man then used his influence to cover up the accidental homicide.

Peter Bogdanovich’s film, based on a play by Steven Peros, admits in the opening moments that its take on events is based on nothing more than conjecture, as “little evidence exists now or existed at the time to support any version of those events.” That hardly matters, though, as the film is not so much an accurate record of historical events, but Bogdanovich’s ode to the golden age of Silent Hollywood. The film does a good job of capturing the dynamic of the Hearst-Davies relationship. Edward Herrmann is excellent in his portrayal of Hearst, a powerful, controlling man with a strong undercurrent of insecurity. As multiple biograpies agree, Hearst enjoyed surrounding himself with Marion’s friends, but was a domineering personality who controlled how much his guests could drink and practically every other aspect of the supposed fun.

Kirsten Dunst won critical kudos for her portrayal of Marion Davies. She brings a sense of bewilderment to the role of a woman is given everything she wants, except freedom, by a controlling older lover. However, accounts of Davies by Harpo Marx and other Hollywood pals describe a friendly woman with a bright personality who was always the life of the party, and in this respect Dunst’s performance falls a bit short.

Eddie Izzard’s portrayal of Charlie Chaplin also generated some controversy, but then any portrayal of so beloved a figure is bound to find detractors. As the dialogue reminds us over and over, Chaplin at the time was reeling from the critical and commercial failure of A Woman of Paris, his first film as a director in which he did not also star, as well as being embroiled in a scandal with his pregnant 16-year-old leading lady, whom he would soon have to marry to avoid arrest. Surprisingly, Izzard, who is known for his manic standup comedy, is understated in his portrayal of Chaplin. When Charlie is about the take his seat at the birthday dinner that fateful night on the yacht, Hearst boisterously pulls the chair out from under him, triggering a prat fall. The film clown falls to the floor graciously, but, no longer willing to be the life of the party during his private time, declines to counter with a comeback.

Bogdanovich originally wanted to film completely in black and white, but couldn’t get approval from the studio. However, black and white scenes of people entering and exiting Ince’s funeral bookend the main portion in color. Many viewers probably remember the film ending in black and white, but there is actually a final scene in color, in which narrator Elinor Glin relates a dream in which she is back on the Oneida, watching everyone dance the Charleston and thinking they all looked so silly, and realizing she also looks silly, but knowing that they could never stop living it up, because there would be nothing left. It is a closing scene that perfectly captures the ethos of Davies and her circle.