Movie Review – North by Northwest

North by Northwest (1959)
Written by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

In my opinion, Alfred Hitchcock’s best works are his dark, psychological films. But, he did manage to deliver something outside of the box with North by Northwest. This is a classic Cold War espionage story about a case of mistaken identity and the fallout that ensues. It’s filled to the brim with Hitchcock’s wry humor and livened up by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. The final product is a lavish and certainly expensive film with the production traveling across the United States as its protagonist tries to get to the bottom of how he became entangled in this mess.

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Movie Review – Vertigo

Vertigo (1958)
Written by Samuel A. Taylor, Alec Coppel, Maxwell Anderson, and Thomas Narcejac
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

In my opinion, Vertigo is Hitchcock’s greatest film. It contains all those elements associated with his work but perfectly distilled to their most impactful essence. Hitchcock collaborator Jimmy Stewart gives his best and final performance for the director. Bernard Herrmann composes a gorgeous musical score that haunts the picture. Vertigo is also Hitchcock’s most honest film about himself, revealing many of his own obsessions and the way he tormented his actresses, especially foreshadowing what was to come with poor Tippi Hedren in just a few years.

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Movie Review – The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man (1956)
Written by Maxwell Anderson & Angus MacPhail
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

You know something is immediately different when Alfred Hitchock himself appears on the screen, in the shadows, to tell us this film is based on actual events, unlike his other pictures. The picture is in black and white and, while the credits tell us the score is by Bernard Hermann, the music is more sedate than we expect from that composer. Events happen on screen in almost methodical fashion, people walking from one place to the other, little emotion. The first display of emotion by a character, fear, leads to everything falling apart for one person whose life ends up in tatters by the end of our tale.

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Movie Review – To Catch a Thief

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To Catch a Thief (1955)
Written by John Michael Hayes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

To Catch a Thief is an uncharacteristically glamorous affair for Hitchcock, lacking the dark psychological edge most audiences associate with his work. He always liked to have beautiful women in his cast and handsome actors, but usually, somewhere in the story, it would delve into twisted territory. But this keeps things focused on jewel theft in the French Riveria and one man trying to clear his name. It does feature mistaken identity elements, a common trope in Hitchcock’s work, but it lacks the suspense found in films like Rear Window and Dial M for Murder.

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Movie Review – Rear Window

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Rear Window (1954)
Written by John Michael Hayes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I first saw Rear Window when I was a child on our local unaffiliated network that aired whatever they could get their hands on. I was probably 10 or 11, but I remember being absolutely caught up in the way Hitchcock told the neighbors’ stories without much dialogue and even illuminated our protagonist in the way the images cut between these other people. This is a genuinely tense & thrilling murder mystery that uses its setting to its fullest. I think Rear Window is an excellent example for filmmakers with limited budgets and filming spaces to take advantage of every facet of that room or building to create a truly suspenseful story.

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Movie Review – Dial M for Murder

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Dial M for Murder (1954)
Written by Frederick Knott
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

1954 was a big year for director Alfred Hitchcock and marked what critics refer to as his “peak years.” This is the period most people think of when they hear the filmmaker’s name. His television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, would start in 1955 and run for a decade. He’d helm pictures like Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, and more. In 1955 Hitch became an American citizen and began making his pictures for Paramount. He would work with some of his best actors like Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Grace Kelly. He’d also infamously terrorize actress Tippi Hedren in The Birds & Marnie, revealing some genuinely dark and disturbing psycho-sexual issues of his own. Hitchcock was a very problematic guy but at the same tapping into the depths of the human psyche.

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Movie Review – The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson
Directed by David Lean

Of all David Lean’s films, this remains my absolute favorite and rewatching it many years since the last viewing, I saw so much more than I ever have before. I think The Bridge on the River Kwai actually serves as a perfect allegory for the incoming Biden presidency and the unity message of Liberals towards Leftists and Progressives in America. While the film is set during World War II, we aren’t in the middle of the action. Instead, the narrative has two prominent locations: a Japanese POW camp and the Club Med-like hospital and Allied base of operations in Ceylon. We never see massive battleships or armed soldiers moving en masse across hills and fields. These are people broken by war, yet some are still unable to see the madness in their actions and cling to the procedures.

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Movie Review – A Face in the Crowd

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Written by Budd Schulberg
Directed by Elia Kazan

Southern folksy charm is one of those things I see visitors to the American Southeast remark upon often. The city of Nashville likes to boast that it’s the largest small town in the country, and I have to admit, if you are walking down the street, you will have strangers saying, “Hello” and waving. But this friendliness can also be a sinister mask, obscuring ulterior motives and manipulations. When this manner is adopted by someone in the media with less than divine intentions, it can be downright corrosive to society. All that is warm, genial, and welcoming is not good for your health.

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Movie Review – Baby Doll

Baby Doll (1956)
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Elia Kazan

Stanley Kubrick called fellow director Elia Kazan, “without question, the best director we have in America, [and] capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses.” Quite a compliment from someone I consider to be the best American film director we’ve ever had. I’m not unfamiliar with Kazan and have seen a number of his films like A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, among others. After gaining acclaim with pictures like East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, Kazan was able to produce some films independently with Baby Doll being one of those.

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Movie Review – The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Written by James Agee
Directed by Charles Laughton

Of my thirty-nine years on this earth, the last thirty-fours (sans one) have been lived in the American South, specifically Tennessee. The American South is a complex region, the hub of an insurrection that led to the Civil War. The place where slavery festered and even upon its dissolution, its legacy poisoned any possibility of a greater sense of community to the present day. Jim Crow was born here. The American South is a “Christ-haunted landscape,” as author Flannery O’Connor once said, words that could not be truer. Churches pop up so that one city block is crammed full with them. A drive through the country will guarantee passing by at least half a dozen. History and Religion bleed through the trunks of the trees and up through the lawns. These are Visions of the American South.

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