Suspicion (1941)

Just a little over a week back, I was paying tribute to a cinema personality who played a major role in defining Hindi film music in the 1950s and 60s: Roshan. 1917 was the year Roshan was born, and in the same year, also in Asia (in Tokyo), a few months later, was born a girl who was to go on to become one of the most prominent stars of British cinema as well as Hollywood. Joan Fontaine, award-winning actress, sister to Olivia de Havilland, licensed pilot, Cordon Bleu chef, rider, champion balloonist, licensed interior designer—and scorer of 160 on an infant IQ test.

Most importantly, though, a fine very actress, and one who starred in some memorable films, in memorable roles: Rebecca, Suspicion, Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe, This Above All… her characters were often, in keeping with Ms Fontaine’s features, women of genteel fragility. Sometimes, that fragility teetered over the edge into terror (Mrs de Winter’s character in Rebecca is a fine example of this) before pulling herself together and showing the steel in her.

Rebecca I have already reviewed on this blog, but to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of an actress I have liked since I was quite young, I decided to review another Joan Fontaine film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Like Rebecca, this one too is about a naïve young woman who ends up married to a man who is perhaps not all he had seemed to be at first glance. Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Lina McLaidlaw won her her only Academy Award for Best Actress.

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Under Capricorn (1949)

Alfred Hitchcock is, for me, the cinematic equivalent of writers like PG Wodehouse or Georgette Heyer or Agatha Christie: I see their names on a work, and I know that this is something I can read (or watch, in Hitchcock’s case) and almost certainly not end up finding it a waste of time. The other day, trawling Youtube for something to watch, I came across Under Capricorn. I had heard of this one before, but besides being aware that it had been directed by Hitchcock, I knew nothing of the film. A good opportunity to watch a Hitch film I hadn’t seen.

This story begins in an unusual location (for Hollywood, that is): below the Tropic of Capricorn, in Australia. Set in 1831, Under Capricorn begins one day in Sydney, where the new Governor (Cecil Parker) of New South Wales, having just arrived on the continent from Ireland, is addressing the people. His welcome, while all gleaming brass and starched uniforms on the official side, is lukewarm when it comes to the general public. They aren’t especially impressed.

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Rear Window (1954)

Friend, blog reader and sometime fellow blogger Harvey nudged me gently last week with a bit of information I hadn’t remembered. August 13th, 2014 was the 115th birth anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock. Was I planning to post something Hitchcock-related to mark the occasion?

And how could I not? Hitchcock – in my opinion, one of the best directors cinema has ever seen, regardless of time and place – is a firm favourite of mine. I’ve reviewed several of his films; in fact, one of the first films I reviewed on this blog (The 39 Steps) dates from Hitchcock’s early British period. I’ve reviewed a hilariously black comedy (The Trouble with Harry); I’ve reviewed classics like Rebecca, and relatively little-known ones (among those not Hitchcock aficionados, I hasten to add) like Strangers on a Train or Lifeboat.

Time (and occasion) therefore, I concluded, to review one of my favourite of Hitchcock’s colour films, in the classic suspense mould. Rear Window, about a photographer stuck in his tiny apartment with a broken leg…

James Stewart as LB Jefferies 'Jeff' in Rear Window

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The Paradine Case (1947)

This is one of the few Hitchcock films I didn’t see in my younger years. And, considering that Hitchcock is one of my favourite directors, and Gregory Peck one of my favourite actors, that is odd indeed. Perhaps I should put it down to the fact that The Paradine Case is not one of Hitch’s best-known works; in fact, he more or less washed his hands off it. And Peck, too, seems to have not really liked it.

Gregory Peck in The Paradine Case

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Kohraa (1964)

I feel that, no matter how high an opinion one may have of oneself, it is risky business to attempt to remake a classic. If (for example) Alfred Hitchcock made a film, don’t attempt to remake it—especially if you plan on tinkering with the way the story plays out. Biren Nag (who had already made the pretty good suspense thriller Bees Saal Baad) tried his hand at remaking Hitchcock’s atmospheric Rebecca here, and while he got some things right, the end result is not quite as memorable as Rebecca was.

Waheeda Rehman in Kohraa

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Spellbound (1945)

When I posted my review of Charade a couple of weeks back, I ended up being reminded of this film. Firstly, because Charade is referred to as ‘the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock didn’t direct’. Secondly, because in the comments, a couple of readers mentioned a film in a similar vein, the Gregory Peck-starrer, Arabesque. My mind did a quick jump ahead, and came up with this: Hitchcock + Peck = Spellbound.

And, as if fate itself had decreed it, I realised just as I was beginning to write this review, that today – August 29 – is the birth anniversary (and, oddly, death anniversary, too) of Spellbound’s leading lady, the lovely Ingrid Bergman. This was the day she was born in 1915, and this was the day she died, in 1982. Happy birthday, Ms Bergman – and RIP.

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The Lady Vanishes (1938)

It’s been a long time since I reviewed a film by one of my favourite directors, so I decided this one merited a rewatch. Like The 39 Steps and Young and Innocent, The Lady Vanishes is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s early British suspense films. I saw it first when I was about 12 years old; but in the years since, I’ve never forgotten the story – I still remember almost every twist and turn of this film. And I still think that it’s one of the best train journey films ever made.


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Lifeboat (1944)

The other day, just for kicks, I was trying to make a mental list of all the directors, 30’s-60’s, whose work I admire. Guru Dutt. Akira Kurosawa. Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Bimal Roy. Raj Khosla (usually). And, of course, the inimitable Alfred Hitchcock. That led to another realisation: I haven’t seen, or reviewed, a Hitchcock film in months. Therefore this, an unusual Hitchcock in that it’s not a suspense film. Instead, it’s a ‘journey’ film, set in a lifeboat bobbing about on the high seas during World War II.

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Rebecca (1940)

Last night I saw Rebecca again.

Really; I’m not trying to be corny, but that’s it. I was in the mood for a Hitchcock film, and having recently seen Pride and Prejudice again, I was also very keen on watching more of Olivier’s work. So Rebecca it was. Based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel, this was Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film, even though it’s set in England (in Cornwall, to be precise) and has an almost totally British cast.

Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson in Rebecca

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The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Looking through my blog archives, I realised that the last Hitchcock film I reviewed, Dial M for Murder, was way back in November 2008. For someone who’s a self-confessed Hitchcock fanatic, this amounts to blasphemy. Service recovery seemed in order.
May I present, therefore, one of my favourite Hitch films: The Trouble with Harry. In true Hitchcock style, it’s full of suspense—but a suspense that’s quirky in the extreme. This is dark humour: farcical, irreverent, and very funny. No, not typical Hitchcock, but one of his best works.

Shirley MacLaine, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick and Edmund Gwenn in The Trouble with Harry

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