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"Rebecca," Alfred Hitchcock's first American project, is a Gothic tale filled with suspense. There is fine acting, beautiful cinematography and more twists and turns than your favorite roller-coaster. I wanted to see this film because I have watched a number of movies lately starring Joan Fontaine, and this is considered by many to be her finest work. "Rebecca" is the only Alfred Hitchcock-directed film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. It is based on the 1938 novel of the same name written by Daphne du Maurier. Filmed in black-and-white, "Rebecca" has a darkly brooding, mysterious feel to it. Fontaine is perfect as the naively sweet second Mrs. De Winter, living in the shadow of her predecessor, Rebecca. Fontaine and Laurence Olivier have wonderful chemistry in this film. All of the actors are top-notch, but Dame Judith Anderson is simply unforgettable in her role as the demented housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. "Rebecca" is a sweeping, captivating picture that every lover of classic films should see.
A very amusing piece of trivia occurs during the opening credits of "Peyton Place," the 1957 film of Grace Metalious' 1956 novel. As I was reading the credits, towards the end, up came: "CinemaScope Lenses by ... Bausch & Lomb" - I kid you not. It's probably a little less funny when you realize that Bausch & Lomb was founded over one-hundred years before that, in 1853! I doubt they were making contact lenses back then, but this is a prime example of a company adapting and surviving. I guess most people have heard of "Peyton Place," but very few people know what it is, other than "some television series my grandparents talked about." It was a major franchise, and was a tale of life in small-town New England, complete with "dirty little secrets," and very tawdry, un-New England-like, skeletons in closets (tawdry for the time and locale, anyway). And, of course, it was also this 1957 film starring Lana Turner as Constance MacKenzie, along with a host of other name stars such as Hope Lange (as Selena Cross), Lee Phillips (as Michael Rossi), and Lorne Greene (as the District Attorney). It was a 2 1/2-hour-long film, and a somewhat high-budget affair at $2 million, but it grossed over a dozen-times that amount. From the very first opening monologue by Allison MacKenzie (played by Diane Varsi), I was pretty much awestruck by the gorgeous cinematography, and instantly went to check to see if it had won any awards - sure enough, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography - if an amateur like me can tell that in the first minute of the film, that's saying something - the shots and the camera work are just beautiful. In fact, Peyton Place received nine Academy Award nominations (winning none, but that's still quite a feat). The car Michael Rossi was driving looked older than a 1957 model, and the film had a clever way of revealing its time period when Dr. Swain (Lloyd Nolan) bent over to pick up his morning paper (just a few seconds later, a close look at the car's license plate says 1941). I also realize that, as huge of a name as Lana Turner is, I wouldn't have recognized her if she had walked by me on a sidewalk. I thought I knew what she looked like, but I guess I didn't. I'm both pleased, and dismayed, to see a person of color 12:43 into this film. I'm sorry to introduce race into such an idyllic setting as Peyton Place (which is a town, not a street or mansion), but I'm keenly aware of such things - it breaks my heart that they stuck a token "darkie" (who may not even be black) in the back-corner of the classroom. I won't say anything more about this, as this film was released only three years after Brown vs. Board of Education, and that's just the way things were in this pathetic society. Onward. My initial impression, after about thirteen minutes, is that "if you like "Pride and Prejudice," you'll like Peyton Place." Jane Austen's fine novel, published in 1813, has legions of fans, and an almost cult-like following - I think I may have read it twice, but I've certainly read it once, and this film has the same kind of "feel" )to it. A beautiful quote, that could not ring any more true, by Peyton Place High School teacher, Miss Elsie Thornton (Mildred Dunnock): "A person doesn't always get what she deserves - remember it. If there's anything in life you want, go and get it; don't wait for anybody to give it to you." My question: What if you're unable to go and get it? I guess you're just out of luck. An hour into Peyton Place, it seems very much like a soap opera, and I don't mean that in a bad way - it's definitely a "slice of life" movie so far, with lots of character development, and not much action or plot to speak of - at least, not yet. But it's very good at delving into its characters and their relationships, and that's enough to maintain my interest, although two-and-a-half hours might be a long time - we'll see. This film means a lot to me, because a major sub-plot involves the Peyton Place High School class of 1941, and that's the year both of my parents graduated from high school as well, so the setting is exa)ctly contemporary to my parents in their youth. Well, so much for the "soap opera" aspect - there is some *very* controversial subject matter dealt with in this film. I've never actually watched a soap opera, so I suspect there's some pretty racy subject matter dealt with in them, too - but this was 1957. Wow. With about thirty minutes to go in the film, my guess - never having seen a soap opera - is that this is essentially a "racy soap opera" for the time. The fact that I like it so much shows how starved I am for films with actual character development - building people about whom I actually care, instead of waiting for the next zombie to jump out, or the next gruesome death to occur. Do I sound like an old fart pining away for the "gold old days?" Good, because that's exactly what I want to sound like (lily-white cast notwithstanding). I don't know if this is a "good movie" so much as a movie that had some standards and some people working on it who cared about its characters - it sure *seems* like a good movie to me, at least in terms of character development. The old chestnut of "it ain't what it seems" has been used to death in the past 59 years, and I'm not sure how novel it was in 1957 (though it was certainly *a* novel in 1956 (I am sorry)), but it's a timeless theme, and it's well executed here. It's just *so* refreshing to see some people for 2 1/2 hours that I'm actually vested in, instead of bracing myself for the next stabbing. Okay, I just finished watching Peyton Place. My entire life, growing up, I had heard the name "Peyton Place," and didn't know what it was - I assumed it was some lame TV soap opera (and it may have been). But this movie was *great*. If it wasn't nominated for a Best Picture award, I'd be surprised - in fact, I'm going to look right now: Yep, it was nominated for Best Picture, exactly as it should have been. This was a truly worthy film - I'm not saying it was "better" than "Bridge over the River Kwai" (also a great film, which won the Academy Award), but it was at that level. If you haven't seen Peyton Place, *especially* if you've read "Pride and Prejudice" and loved it (I still think there are some vague similarities between the two), *watch this movie*! What a wonderful film this was, and I'm so glad I finally saw it, instead of wrongly thinking the name was exclusively some vague, meaningless, daytime soap, which is what I've spent my entire life thinking. Yep, the old fart speaks: They don't make 'em like this anymore. Even though there was only one darkie sitting in the corner of the classroom, who was the only person of color throughout the entire movie. What a shame. But, God, what a good movie this was. Invest the two-and-a-half hours necessary to watch "Peyton Place," and please chime in here after you do.
A recent discussion about "Vertigo" on this website made me think about watching "Rear Window" again. I saw this film years ago, and I loved it. I watched it again last night with the same result. This film is regarded by many critics as one of Hitchcock's best. It stars James Stewart as a world famous photographer sidelined with a broken leg. As he sits in his apartment recovering from his injury, he becomes a voyuer, passing the hours watching the lives of his neighbors unfold through their rear windows. The result is a fascinating look at human nature, and our desire to watch. Like Stewart's character, Jeff, we are drawn into the lives of these strangers, without knowing their names or in some cases, ever hearing them speak. Love, marriage, fidelity, success, failure and of course (it is Hitchcock after all) murder--all of these subjects are put on display, simply by allowing us to sit and stare out of the window with Jeff. Grace Kelly is luminous as Jeff's girlfriend, Lisa Fremont. A successful fashion model who is madly in love with him, she appears in one gorgeous dress after another, begging for Jeff's attention, but failing to draw his gaze away from the window with her more than ample charms. Hitchcock films Lisa so that we are seduced by her, even when Jeff is not. She faces the camera as she kisses his neck, begging him to pay attention to her. Her Edith Head wardrobe is divine. Anyone remotely interested in 1950s fashions will love seeing the frocks Kelly so beautifully wears. Jeff ignoring Lisa for his voyeuristic pursuits makes this film feel relevant in 2016. Who hasn't seen groups of people sitting together, heads down, scrolling through their Facebook feeds or reading the news on their phones? Would they be happier if they looked up and talked to each other? Or, consider the concert-goers, taking endless photos and posting them on social media. Would they enjoy the performance more if they pocketed their phones and lost themselves in the music? In 1954, Hitchcock was making a statement about people watching films and, perhaps, TV. Think about how much more pervasive passive voyeurism has become in the past 60 years. "Rear Window" succeeds on many levels. It is a story of romance and mystery. There is a great deal of suspense in this film as it unfolds, all extremely well done by the master. If you haven't seen "Rear Window," I highly recommend that you do.
Since I recently watched "The Maltese Falcon," I decided to have a go at "Suspicion," both films being from 1941. The glass of milk scene was my favorite part of the film - it was Hitchcock at his best. *** MINOR SPOILER FOLLOWS *** I didn't realize until after the movie that Cary Grant's menace is developed by Hitchcock by never having him walking into a scene; he merely "appears" - I'm not sure if that hold true for the entire film, but apparently, it happens quite a bit. Grant's performance was terrific - both childish and increasingly creepy as the film progressed. Will he or won't he?