Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) Alfred Hitchcock

This review is part of the Carole Lombard Blogathon being hosted by Carole and Co.

The name Alfred Hitchcock on the movie screen evokes the notion of suspense or a thriller, even horror; some sort of on the edge of your seat nail biter for sure. Certainly, the name Alfred Hitchcock does not bring to mind the words ‘screwball comedy.’ Therefore, in 1941 when RKO released “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and the credits rolled on to the screen with the words “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock,” many theatergoers may have been surprised  by what they were about to see or even confused, then again, they may have been thrilled once they realized they were about to watch a delightful, charming, if not totally successful, battle of the sexes played by two of the finest and most attractive performers for this kind of film.

The plot is kind of farfetched to say the least, David and Ann Smith find out after three years of blissful marital battle they are not married due to a legal snafu. The Smith’s are a sophisticated couple who like to play conjugal mind games, one of which is locking themselves up in their bedroom for days. What goes on in the bedroom for three days? Well, their entire household staff is just as interested to know as we are, one gets the feeling the activities are sexual as well as combative, but it comes to a halt when a messenger from David’s Park Avenue law firm arrives at the apartment with some papers to be signed demanding to be taken to their room. Before David leaves, the couple embrace and reaffirm their promise to never leave the bedroom mad. Still there is tension in the air, especially when Ann asks the all important question, “If you had to do it over again, would you marry me?” David’s response is an honest but problem making, “no.”

Life only gets more complicated when the couple discover their marriage was never official due to some geographical mix up with the license at the time. Ann waits for David to propose, a proposal David is reluctant to put forward. Feisty Ann tosses David out of the house, quickly changing her name from Smith to Krausheimer and Ann begins dating David’s law partner, Jefferson Custer (Gene Raymond). Continue reading

Alfred Hitchcock: 24 Frames Baker’s Dozen

As  kind of my own personal wrap up for the CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon I am listing my own baker’s dozen of Hitchcock favorites. Like any list, at least of mine, it is never set in stone as additional viewings and new insights tend to change the order with only a couple of exceptions. A couple may suprise some, at least in the order they are in. The top three seem to always remain in those same positions.  

…and feel free to submit your own list.  

1 – REAR WINDOW

3 – PSYCHO

3 – NORTH BY NORTHWEST

Continue reading

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: Notorious

This reposting is in conjuction with the Classic Movie Blog Association’s  Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon. For more Hitchcock reviews by other CMBA members see list after the review or click on the Hitchcock Blogathon ad on the right. 

Who ever said Alfred Hitchcock was not a romantic? After all, what could be more romantic than the final scenes in “Notorious” where we see Cary Grant coming to Ingrid Bergman’s rescue just in time to take her away from the murdering Nazi Claude Rains. True for the past two hours Grant forced Ingrid to whore herself  by playing a 20th Century Mata Hari, seducing and sleeping with Rains in order to obtain secret information. He then resents her for agreeing to do this and hates himself for forcing her do it. Yep, no one knew how to treat a woman like Mr. Hitchcock, just ask Janet Leigh in “Psycho” or Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

“Notorious” is a dark perverted love story. It is also a story of espionage, spies, murder and sex with Grant and Bergman as two of the most glamorous spies this side of James Bond, and wouldn’t have Grant made a great James Bond. In this seductive tale, Bergman is Alicia Huberman, daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, though Alicia herself is a patriotic American, a party girl who loves to drink and has a reputation for promiscuity, which just happens to make her a perfect choice for a dirty job planned by American intelligence agents.  Agent Devlin (Grant) is selected to recruit her, by seduction if necessary, for the delicate mission. He does his job well, a little too well as she falls in love with him. One romantic evening, Devlin breaks the news on what she has been recruited to do. They want her to go to Rio de Janeiro where a known Nazi spy ring has congregated. There she is to ingratiate herself into the home and life of the spy rings leader, one Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a man she has previously met. In a subtle (remember this is 1946) but still clear way, Devlin tells her to do what it takes, even to sleep with Sebastian if need be, to find out what he and his cohorts are up too.  Reluctantly she agrees. In love with Devlin, she practically pleads with him to tell her not to go through with this mission but Devlin never says the magic words, he has his orders. Poor Devlin, our dark hero is conflicted; he has feelings for Alicia yet resents her for accepting the job and hates himself for not stopping her. Continue reading

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon is Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

 The one day, all day Alfred Hitchcock blogathon is coming! On January 17th,  The Classic Movie Blog Association presents the first Alfred Hitchcock blogathon. More than 15 classic movie blogs with be participating on Hitchcock and nothing but Hitchcock this coming Monday. A list of all the participarting CMBA bloggers will be provided on Monday.

Dial M For Murder (1954) Alfred Hitchcock

“Dial M for Murder” was a successful play in both London and on Broadway (where it ran for 552 performances). Written by English playwright Frederick Knott (Write Me a Murder, Wait Until Dark), the hit play originally was turned down for production by London theater managers claiming there would be little interest in this sort of play. Eventually, the BBC showed interest and the play premiered on the British TV station in early 1952. The play made its West End debut when a businessman who owned a lease on the Westminster theater, and with no play ready to put into production, decided to take a chance and put on the low cost thriller with some of the same cast members from the television version. The show was a critical and commercial success.  In October 1952, the play opened in New York with Maurice Evans as Tony Wendice, (Ray Milland in the film). Evans had shrewdly acquired the North American rights to the play. Also in the Broadway cast were Anthony Dawson and John Williams, both who would recreate their roles later on screen. Williams won a Tony Award for his role as the Police Inspector.

Enter Alfred Hitchcock who loves a well plotted mystery.  Hitch was at the end of his Warner Brothers contract and needed a film to complete his obligations.  Women in peril has always been a favorite subject for writers ) and film directors, so the blending of these two talents was a natural fit. Knott wrote the screenplay which remained faithful to the play. Unlike most filmmakers, when they film a play, Hitchcock did not “open up” the story. He kept it confined to the apartment, where the entire play takes place, except for a couple of short scenes outside the apartment and one scene at a men’s club. Continue reading

Notorious (1946) Alfred Hitchcock

Who ever said Alfred Hitchcock was not a romantic? After all, what could be more romantic than the final scenes in “Notorious” where we see Cary Grant coming to Ingrid Bergman’s rescue just in time to take her away from the murdering Nazi Claude Rains. True for the past two hours Grant forced Ingrid to whore herself  by playing a 20th Century Mata Hari, seducing and sleeping with Rains in order to obtain secret information. He then resents her for agreeing to do this and hates himself for forcing her do it. Yep, no one knew how to treat a woman like Mr. Hitchcock, just ask Janet Leigh in “Psycho” or Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

“Notorious” is a dark perverted love story. It is also a story of espionage, spies, murder and sex with Grant and Bergman as two of the most glamorous spies this side of James Bond, and wouldn’t have Grant made a great James Bond. In this seductive tale, Bergman is Alicia Huberman, daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, though Alicia herself is a patriotic American, a party girl who loves to drink and has a reputation for promiscuity, which just happens to make her a perfect choice for a dirty job planned by American agents (CIA, FBI?).  Agent Devlin (Grant) is selected to recruit her, by seduction if necessary, for the delicate mission. He does his job well, a little too well as she falls in love with him. One romantic evening, Devlin breaks the news on what she has been recruited to do. They want her to go to Rio de Janeiro where a known Nazi spy ring has congregated. There she is to ingratiate herself into the home and life of the spy rings leader, one Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a man she has previously met. In a subtle (remember this is 1946) but still clear way, Devlin tells her to do what it takes, even to sleep with Sebastian if need be, to find out what he and his cohorts are up too.  Reluctantly she agrees. In love with Devlin, she practically pleads with him to tell her not to go through with this mission but Devlin never says the magic words, he has his orders. Poor Devlin, our dark hero is conflicted; he has feelings for Alicia yet resents her for accepting the job and hates himself for not stopping her.

 And so, Alicia not only sleeps with Sebastian, she marries him when forced to prove her love when jealousies arise.  During a reception in Sebastian’s home, to which Devlin was invited, he and Alicia make their way down to the wine cellar where by chance discover uranium hidden in wine bottles. A short time later, Sebastian goes toward the cellar to retrieve more wine for the party and spots the couple. When Devlin realizes Sebastian is watching them he puts his arms around Alicia and kisses her hoping to draw Sebastian’s thoughts away from thinking they are spying. Sebastian is not fooled and to his dismay realizes he foolishly married an American spy. Mortified that he has been duped, and scared of what would potentially happen if his cohorts found out, he acquiesces to his mother’s devious plan to get rid of Alicia by slowly poisoning her. When Devlin discovers Alicia is in danger he goes to Sebastian’s house, rescuing Alicia just in the nick of time from her slow demise, and in turn leaves Sebastian and his mother to face their fellow Nazi’s and most certain death.       

Cary Grant has played his share of dark characters, especially with Hitchcock. Here Grant plays Devlin the American agent as unlikable, cold, calculating and cruel, pimping the woman he has fallen in love with to sleep with another man. Alicia marries Sebastian partially in spite to get back at Devlin for forcing her into this life. She loves Devlin but willingly sleeps with Sebastian. Devlin loves Alicia but encourages her to seduce Sebastian (all for God and Country). Sebastian, a hen-pecked mama’s boy desires Alicia and resents Devlin. Hitchcock, ever the little devil makes Sebastian the Nazi come across as the gentler, more considerate, loving and more likable man while Devlin, our alleged hero is cold and despicable forcing the woman he loves to cheapen herself.

“Notorious” is one of Hitchcock’s most visually stunning films, brilliantly photographed with exquisitely arranged camera work. In a very early scene we  see Alicia waking up the following morning from an alcoholic binge to find Devlin at her bedroom door with the camera, from her POV spinning 180 degrees to simulate her hangover. There is a superb crane shot during the reception scene at Sebastian’s home where Hitchcock’s camera begins at the top of the stairs and slowly zooms in and down to first floor continuing to an extreme close up of Alicia’s hand and a key (to the cellar) she is holding. Then of course, there is the famous kissing scene where Hitchcock out foxed the censors with their rule of  “no kisses lasting longer than three seconds” which he managed to make more erotic than the most blatantly steamy scenes we see in today’s films.  Needless to say, “Notorious” is a beautifully choreographed film.

You can add Sebastian to the list Hitchcock’s mama’s boys, which include Roger Thornhill in “North by Northwest” along with good old Norman Bates. Speaking of “Psycho” Hitchcock  uses a similar opening here with  the location, time and date appearing on the screen, as he would use again  in opening scene of the  1960 horror classic. Hitchcock was forced to change the ending by Selznick. In early versions of the script Alicia dies, Hitchcock does manage to come up with a “happy ending” that is still one of the smoothest, thrilling and satisfying ending. The film opened at Radio City Music Hall in 1946, and was an immediate hit. The story was exciting and had the audiences smoking with the sexual heat generated between the two stars.  

*****

Psycho: Sex, Violence, Advertising and Going to the Movies

How do you write about Psycho and not be redundant? There has been so much written about the film, the director, and the cultural influence that one has to wonder if there are any new avenues left to explore. The number of books devoted to Psycho stands at least number six not including the original novel by Robert Bloch.

The Moment of Psycho – David Thompson

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho – Stephen Rubello

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: A  Casebook  – Robert Kolker, Ed.

Psycho in the Shower – Philip J. Skerry

Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller – Janet Leigh

A Long Hard Look at Psycho – Raymond Durgnat

Add to this, the list of books on Hitchcock’s film  and biographies about Hitch and well there is enough reading  to keep you busy for a while.

Still, here I am writing about one of my favorite Hitchcock films. In 1960, Psycho was a film in the forefront. In many ways, it was revolutionary. Hitchcock slyly fought the censors managing to get more sex and violence into one film that ever before, that is, at least since the Production Code came into effect in 1934.  But the revolution was not just about sex and violence. Psycho also ground-breaking in advertising, in sophisticated filmgoers thinking about American film as art and in changing the movie going habits of the public. Psycho did not just break all the rules, it created new ones.

Movie going in the old days….

“It is required that you see Psycho from the very beginning!”

“No one will be admitted except at the very beginning of the picture”

No one…BUT NO ONE…will be admitted to the theater after the start of each performance…”

Before television, home video, home theater, streaming, video games and Xbox for entertainment, the public went to the movies.  As much as two or three times a week. Local movie houses changed features at least twice a week to accommodate the ever-hungry audience. That began to change once the dreaded menace of the film studios, television, started showing up in everyone’s home. Audiences began staying home, attendance dropped dramatically. The studios fought back with CinemaScope, 3-D and epic road show productions like The Robe and Ben-Hur.One other factor also came into play, the slow and continuous destruction of the Production Code. What did not change was the habit moviegoers had of just going to a show at any time. They did not bother looking in the newspaper to see what time the feature started, theaters had continuous showings, most folks just entered the theater in the middle of the picture and stayed until that point came in the film where they arrived. It was a strange practice, kind of like starting a book with chapter five, reading it to the end and then going back and read the first four chapters.

That all began to change in 1960 when Alfred Hitchcock presented a small, made for less than $1 million dollars, black and white horror film called Psycho.  Theater owners were not happy about this forced ruling  that NO ONE WILL BE ADMITTED TO THE THEATER AFTER THE START OF EACH PERFORMANCE,  fearing a loss of revenue. Were filmgoers going to wait until the next starting time? Those fears were placated once they saw the lines form around the block.  Hitchcock actually wanted to do this when he released “Vertigo” a few years earlier. Theater owners fought it and there was really no dramatic effect, unlike in Psycho that could be argued for doing so. With Psycho, seeing the last part of the film first would ruin the film. Besides, Hitchcock owned 60% of Psycho and could demand anything he wanted. It was his movie both artistically and financially. It was a slow process but audiences eventually would begin to attend movies at the starting time and not just drop in at any time.

Censorship Sex and Violence

Paramount Studios was reluctant to make the film, nervous about the content, so Hitch had to arrange financing though his own production company and shot the film on the Universal Studio lots though Paramount would eventually agree to release the film.

Hitchcock begins Psycho with a shot of the city of Phoenix, and as the Saul Bass credits appeared the camera moves across the city closing in as the final credit reads “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock” on one hotel window, the hotel room of two of the leading characters. They are semi-dressed, in bed, participating in a lunchtime tryst! This kind of sensuous bare flesh eroticism was unparalleled in American cinema at the time. Right from the opening scenes Hitchcock was rocking the boat. Like Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder and The Moon is Blue, Hitchcock and Psycho was a pioneering force in breaking through the stringent production code that had been enforced since 1934. The code demanded that punishment be handed out, sex between unmarried couples could not go unpunished. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) would meet her maker, wacko Norman Bates, soon enough but strangely, Sam Loomis is not punished for his behavior. Was there a double standard here, the woman had to pay, but the guy was off the hook?  The amount of screen time Marion Crane spends in her bra and half-slip is unprecedented. Not one,  but three scenes, the good Marion wears white undies in the opening scene, however after she steals the $40,000 we see her in a black bra and half-slip.  

This leads us to the famous shower sequence, a Hitchcock potpourri of sex and violence. It is a visually brilliant sequence that has been written and discussed over and over. The editing of this sequence had more than 70  cuts. What did you see, what did you think you saw. Was Leigh naked? Did we, the audience, see a knife penetrate the victim’s skin? Give credit to Hitch for constructing such an intricate piece of work that here we are, almost fifty years later, still discussing it and still in awe. Despite all the blood and gore, we have seen over the past five decades, seeing “Mother” entering the bathroom, the knife coming down repeatedly, Marion in the shower screaming, blood going down the drain, her slumped body leaning over the tub, the amazing close up of the dead woman’s eye as the camera pulls back. This is still shocking today and that may be because art conquers all.  The actual shooting of this sequence in the shower was a tough one for Janet Leigh, as she could not blink though water was pouring from the shower. In the end, they had to use an optical shot. Though the shower scene runs for only approximately 3 minutes, it took seven days to film.

Then there is the toilet bowl flushing. Marion tears up her mathematical equation, subtracting $700 from $40,000 to arrive at $33,300 of stolen money remaining that she will have to return. Guess math was not her strong suit. Anyway, she tears up the note and flushes it down the toilet! OMG, a toilet flushing right there are the big screen! Does this mean movie stars go to the bathroom like the rest of us! Who knew? Yes, this was the first time a toilet bowl was seen on-screen flushing and all.

 

Advertising

“No one…BUT NO ONE…will be admitted to the theater after the start of each performance…”

The poster for “Psycho” featured  Janet Leigh, a major movie star at the time in a bra and a half-white slip.

Never before had a star of her magnitude been featured so blatantly in the advertising. She even appeared on theater marquees semi-dressed. Hitchcock demanded that no one be allowed into the theater once the film began. You must see it from the beginning.  As mentioned earlier, theater owners were not happy about that. They worried audiences turned away would not return. For the first time many filmgoers stood in line to watch a movie.

The Psycho movie trailer is unusual in that it is about 10 minutes long, and it consists of Hitchcock giving us a droll  tour of the Bates Motel and other scenes of mayhem. The trailer was made after the completion of the film and Janet Leigh was on to another assignment by this time, subsequently, Hitchcock had Vera Miles put on a blonde wig and scream in the shower for the trailer scene as it came to an abrupt end.

 

Some Notes on the Film 

Based on a novel by Robert Bloch who used Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein as a role model for his character of Norman Bates. Joseph Stefano was hired to write the screenplay after a failed attempt by James Cavanaugh, a writer who worked on several “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” scripts. Bloch’s Norman Bates was changed from a short fat unattractive man into the tall, slim and more attractive Anthony Perkins who was Hitchcock’s choice from the inception.

Before Janet Leigh got the part, Lana Turner, Piper Laurie, Martha Hyer  were some of the actresses considered or mentioned but never seriously. Leigh’s homespun image and her dramatic role in Orson Welles’  Touch of Evil won her the role. Leigh was not the typical blonde heroine we usually associate with Hitchcock, the icy elegant style of Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman. Though just as beautiful, Leigh’s beauty  is more down to earth and seemingly more attainable.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times continued his misguided ways by giving “Psycho” a mixed review. However, he seemed to have a change of heart toward the end of the year when he named it as one of the top 10 films of the year. Other critics called it tasteless, cheap and exploitive; Yet Wanda Hale of the New York Daily News gave it four stars (her highest rating).

With Psycho Hitchcock changed the perceived rules of movies. He overthrew the unwritten, though accepted parameters that were in place, the agreement between the filmmaker and the audience. He does this most blatantly with our treasured star system. The credits announce that there are two major stars, Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. The unwritten contract is that both of these stars will be in the film for the entire length, be it one and a half hours, two hours or more.  When Janet Leigh is killed after approximately 40 minutes, we the audience, are doubly shocked. First, by the sheer never before seen brutality of the attack,  as we see “Mother’s” knife so violently ripping through the shower curtain and into the naked body of Marion Crane with Bernard Hermann’s screeching violins heightening the bloodcurdling moment.

In another way the killing off of one of the stars of the picture, so unexpectedly, so early on was just as unsettling. Audiences already stunned by the viciousness of the murder now are unnerved by the unexpected disposal of the star. The audience is left wondering, where do we go from here? Hitchcock made it even more unsettling because just before the horrific murder, we watched Marion having something to eat with Norman, and she decided she was going back to Phoenix, return the money, and attempt to make amends. He made us like Marion, gave us hope that somehow it will all be all right for her. We empathize with her and then Hitch pulled the rug out from under us all.

Composer Bernard Herrmann did not even receive an Academy Award nomination for his magnificent  score that contributes so much tension to the film. The Oscar that year went to  Ernst Gold for his score of Otto Preminger’s Exodus. Gold also won a Grammy for the same score while Herrmann was again denied any recognition. Try to imagine Psycho without the magnificent dramatic musical score and you will realize the importance of Herrmann’s contribution.

Some of Hitchcock’s favorite themes run through Psycho.  Food, voyeurism, use of mirrors and reflective surfaces and of course birds. From Norman’s hobby of taxidermy to Norman telling Marion “she eats like a bird, to the city of Phoenix (mythical bird) and Marion’s last name Crane.

Robert Bloch received only $9,000 for the film rights to his novel. He never knew who was purchasing the book until after it was sold. By the time, Bloch paid of his agent and taxes he was left with less than $6,000.

Below are some additional lobby cards, posters and photos.