Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Espionage and star crossed lovers make for a potent mix in Hitchcock's classic with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

I'm so glad that I finally got around to watching this Hitch. It's a taut thriller, ace love story and there is a camera shot that you may not see in many other films. Ingrid plays the spoilt daughter of a Nazi war criminal, living it up in the U.S. American agent Cary Grant approaches her and forces her into working for the government to help uncover a dastardly plot involving more bad Nazis hanging out in Rio. She agrees (or has little choice) and Grant and Bergman head down south.

Whilst planning the mission the pair begin to fall in love although Grant is careful not to let it get in the way of the plan to have Ingrid 'fall in love' with Nazi No.1 Claude Rains. Eventually, Ingrid ingratiates herself all the way into Claude's home that he shares with his mother and they get engaged. All the while both Ingrid and Cary try to deny their feelings but you can see they feel deeply for each other and are frustrated in the whole situation.

The really tense stuff starts as Ingrid has to stealthily find out what the Nazis are up to and to pass on information to Cary. She starts well but it all goes a bit Pete Tong at the engagement party when her and Cary's behaviour starts to make the baddies suspicious. There is a technically amazing camera shot, that goes from almost a birds eye view of the party in the mansion. The camera pans all the way down from this very wide opening shot right down to a tight close up of a key in Ingrid Bergman's hand. I've read a bit about how this was done (very difficult to film apparently) but it looks fluent and effortless, further evidence of the Master's technical brilliance.

As the baddies have now sussed out poor Ingrid's task, they begin to poison her slowly so that neither she or Cary notice what's being done to her until it's almost too late. However, this leads to a wonderful rescue scene in which Cary comes to take Ingrid away. He manages to extract her from the evil grasp of the Nazis but it is SO tense. He is in the nest of vipers, risking his life and Ingrid's life but he (sniffles) loves her so much he won't sacrifice her to their fatal plan.

I liked the sacrificial, masochistic element to this film. You see both of them (but especially Ingrid) really suffering for each other, almost to prove their love to the other. Hitchcock loves to punish his characters, loves to test their resolve and their faith in humanity. This film illustrates perfectly that test and how two people can find inner strength that they never knew they had.

More info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038787/


Girl meets boy, they fall in love, then they find out if he's a killer.

One of Hitchcock's more thoughtful and delicate films, I really loved this. Ingrid Bergman plays a psychiatrist at a rural mental institution. They recieve a new head psychiatrist (Gregory Peck) to take over from Dr Murchison who is retiring. All seems well. Very quickly Greg and Ingrid fall in love. There is a great scene in which they first kiss that kick starts everything from then on. As soon as they declare their love, Ingrid discovers that Greg is not all that he seems and the story takes a thrilling turn.

Greg and Ingrid realise that he is not the doctor that he is supposed to be but Greg has amnesia and can't remember who he really is. Cue a riveting tale of false murder charges and selective bad memories coming back to Greg, all the while on the run from the law, with Ingrid in tow.

They end up at her old Professor's house for some ace scenes in which we see Greg have one of his odd memories/associations, pick up a cut throat razor and wander through the house at night. We're left not knowing if he has killed either Ingrid or her Prof but soon are relieved to learn that the Prof had worked it all out and given Greg some bromide to put him to sleep before he caused any harm.

Eventually the case is solved by the lovebirds but not before some soul searching from Greg and some crazy dream sequences designed by Salvador Dali. What I really liked about the story, and perhaps all of Hitchcock's films, is the underlying ideas. What's he really saying about love by having Greg not be what he makes out and by having Ingrid almost blindly faithful in her belief of his innocence? Is he saying that we can be blinded by lust and intense emotion as to the real or sometimes imagined bad side to our new beau?

Many other stories/films have explored this with Hitchcock's own Suspicion up there among them.

More info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038109/


Dostoevskyian morals and Bressonian 'acting' in masterpiece of understatement and perhaps the main influence on Matt Damon's wooden style.

I'd wanted to watch this film after reading Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer - his Marcus Aurelius style treatise on how to make films and how actors should act. This short work is full of gems on how film should not just be a pseudo theatrical artform but should take advantage of what the camera can do that the stage cannot.

The film follows a newly released prisoner (Michel) as he navigates his way around getting back into normal life again. We see him in his one room flat, grubby, dishevilled bordering on unhygenic. We see him visiting his terminally ill mother, trying to work out a way of getting hold of her money. We also see him interact with a female neighbour of his mother's. We also see the police keeping an eye on him, in bars and other locations. We see him make contact with another thief, and attempt to set up several robberies.

All the time we are with Michel, we begin to realise that he is amoral, almost psychopathic or sociopathic. Bresson's direction to his actors is simply to read the lines and act out the part. There is no emoting, no gestures, no raised voices and for some characters virtually no facial expressions. Bresson argues that most film acting is born of theatre acting, where actors have to exagerrate emotions in order to reach the back row. In film however, the camera picks up every tiny movement and so actors (or models, as he calls them) are required to do no more than they would in real life. He argues that in reality emotion and expression often do not match up neatly in time, so that even if you argue with someone, you may only really show your feelings once alone.

Part of this method is to get the actors to read and rehearse lines again and again until the script is engrained in their memories and that they will then read their lines with ease and more realism.

As a viewer, this way of acting is really interesting, especially when compared to the Method acting style and the mainstream of Hollywood acting. We almost forget that we're watching a flesh and blood person and we certainly don't associate the character with the actors own gestures as with many very famous names (think Jack Nicholson's trademark grin etc.). We are simply given action and observation.

And what action it is. Michel goes from almost getting back on track to falling fully in with a gang of thieves and perfecting his pickpocket technique. There are some virtuoso and near silent scenes in which we watch in detail as Michel robs from fellow travellers on trains and at a railway station. The timing is fantastic in these scenes and they are really tense to sit through.

Eventually, the catalyst of his mother's death means that Michel's journey back to proper badness and prison is complete. The film reminded me of Crime and Punishment, another story of an outsider testing out morality and societal norms until they reach breaking point.

A really fascinating and unique take on what cinema can do.

More info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053168/