Firstly, I would like to say thanks to Nerds and Nomsense for setting up Classic Movie Week and therefore forcing me to watch some classic movies! I always mean to, but then I never seem to get around to it.
So, Hitchcock! When you hear the name you probably (chuckle to yourself a little because it’s a funny name?) think of films like Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, or Rear Window. Fair enough. All of those movies are frellin’ awesome, in both entertainment value and film craftsmanship. Hitchcock also directed another 50-or-so movies – full list here! I took a look at three that I would categorize as “obscure-ish” ones that you might have heard of but that escape our attention most of the time. Here they are, presented in the order I watched them:
The 39 Steps
Leading Lady: Madeleine Carroll
Leading Man: Robert Donat
Year of Release: 1935
This story consists of that typical Hitchcock man-winds-up-involved-in-a-crime-he-knew-nothing-about thing. A Canadian living in England named Hannay meets a mysterious woman. She gets stabbed over something called the 39 Steps, and there we have a title and a mystery! Hannay chases a lead to Scotland while trying to avoid the police, who think he killed the woman, and he meets a lady named Pamela who eventually ends up being his unwilling accomplice on his mission to find the truth about the 39 Steps and clear his name. This movie is a spy thriller, but to be perfectly honest I didn’t find it all that thrilling. For one thing, it’s really hard to hear. That’s not really anyone’s fault as the sound tech in ’35 wasn’t what it is today, but it does mar the viewing experience for a modern audience. For another thing, there’s nothing in particular about Hannay to endear him to the audience. He’s…fine. Maybe he’s meant to be an everyman, but ultimately I just don’t really care what happens to him. This film does have some interesting things to offer though, such as a showman with an incredible memory, some visual comedy when the two leads get handcuffed together, and a really well-done scene in which Hannay tries to distract a local Scottish woman from seeing an incriminating newspaper headline. (Seriously, that scene was great.)
My rating: 5.5 out of 10.
Go ahead and watch it if you’re really into film history or Hitchcock’s work or you’ve read the play it’s based on. It’s not a terrible film by any means.
The Lady Vanishes
Leading Lady: Margaret Lockwood
Leading Man: Michael Redgrave
Year of Release: 1938
I could hear this one, so that’s already a good start. A bunch of people get holed up in a hotel overnight due to a train delay and get on each other’s nerves. The next day they all board the train, and the story really picks up. Iris, our protagonist, suffers a bump on the head and is looked after by cute little old lady Ms. Froy. Ms. Froy encourages Iris to take a nap, and when Iris wakes up Ms. Froy is nowhere to be found. Everyone Iris asks states that there was no such little old lady at all. Ms. Froy seems to have…(wait for it)…vanished! Iris doesn’t so much enlist the help of this guy Gilbert as have his presence forced upon her, but the two of them work together to solve the mystery. (He’s kind of an ass at first, but he grows on you.) This film has a great cast of characters including an illusionist, a baroness, a nun, a brain surgeon, a couple having an affair, and two cranky Englishmen who hate everything foreign and are only concerned with getting home to watch the cricket. It’s also a very comedic film, which I was not expecting. There’s a lot of physical comedy and great one-liners. It reminded me a little bit of Clue, actually. (Side note: This post isn’t about Clue, but I highly recommend Clue. It’s wonderful.)
My rating: 7 out of 10. (My rating for Clue: 10 out of 10.)
Watch it for some lighthearted mystery. If you’re like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Leading Lady: Tippi Hedren
Leading Man: Sean Connery
Year of Release: 1964
Starring the lady from The Birds, and the first James Bond is in this one as well. Marnie is a serial thief with some mental trauma (she can’t handle seeing the colors red and white together) and family troubles. She gets entangled with the wealthy Mark Rutland, who finds her out and convinces her to marry him in exchange for his silence. That’s all pretty weird, so Marnie, who doesn’t want Mark anywhere near her, has a psychotic break on their honeymoon. Back home, Mark does some snooping out of concern for Marnie’s health and finds that the situation all leads back to Marnie’s Mama in Baltimore, but what the heck happened? Out of these three films, this one is the one I like the best. It’s very engaging, and it has the most character depth. Marnie, for example, alternates between desperate and hysterical and sharp and in command. There’s one scene in which Mark is trying to play psychiatrist with her and she verbally let’s him have it, and it’s pretty great. Because really, what’s up with that guy? Is he benevolent but selfish? Or is he just manipulative? He seems to genuinely care for Marnie, but he’s also kind of sketchy.
My rating: 9 out of 10.
Give this one a shot if you like a good, emotional mystery and don’t mind a little hammy acting. Tippi shrieks a lot.