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April 26, 2010

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Chuck Stephens

Donald Spoto's H bio, as I recall, takes a pretty exhaustive accounting of Hitch's heroes plying women with, and forcing upon them, liquor and pills throughout his career; worth a revisit, if you have that volume nearby.

H would repeat the Bunuel-ian "sound out" bit a couple of years later, as Cary Grant is walked to a plane by Leo G. Carroll in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

bill

Though I haven't watched in in a while, this has long been one of my favorite Hitchcock films. It's such a tight, emotional piece of work. My own favorite moment is when Stewart and Day are in the church, having tracked the kidnappers, and they lock eyes with Mrs. Drayton. The steely anger in Stewart's eyes, in particular, packs a real charge, particularly when I first saw it, which was before I'd seen any of his darker movies like VERTIGO or his Mann Western. Seeing that look in Jimmy Stewart's eyes was my first indication that, sweet as he might have been, if you crossed him or his family, he would probably bust you up.

The Siren

I have never been able to put my finger on exactly why this film ranks so low in my personal Hitchcock pantheon; it certainly isn't the fault of the filmmaking, which is excellent. I think you are on to something with the sniping between Day and Stewart. Usually in a Hitchcock movie you're watching a relationship develop, how unhealthily. In TMWKTM the relationship is already there and curdling.

lipranzer

This has always been one of my favorite Hitchcock films (next to NORTH BY NORTHWEST and PSYCHO), because not only its thrills and its depiction of marriage (I've never been a Doris Day fan, but she's terrific here, and highly believable with Stewart), but also because, in a way, it's quite perverse. Only Hitchcock could possibly get away with a plot coincidence like this one has (if the bus doesn't swerve, and Hank doesn't accidentally pull off the woman's veil, the entire plot goes out the window). And I like the way the movie wraps up as well.

Jaime

Hitch has two remarkable sound-outs in two of his least-praised films: TORN CURTAIN and TOPAZ. The former, a key moment in the life of a strained marriage similar to TMWKTM. In the latter, in what is certainly one of his least "fun" films, a great sequence in which Roscoe Lee Browne does a big espionage job at the Cuban Embassy in Harlem.

And - of course, perhaps the greatest of all - Grace Kelly's excursion into Thorwald's apartment!! Which to this day makes my palms sweat just thinking about it.

Michael Adams

A geezer, I saw all of Hitchcock's films from Dial M for Murder through Family Plot when they were new, and Man Who Knew was my favorite Hitchcock when I was a boy. While I still enjoy and admire it, one thing I would change is Day. Unless she is speaking calmly and softly, I find her voice irritating. Whenever she becomes hysterical in Man Who, it's like what we oldtimers used to call nails on a blackboard.

Jaime beat me to the Roscoe Lee Browne sound-out, but there's another, though lesser one in Dial M for Murder, which I watched again yesterday. When Grace Kelly comes home and discovers her key won't open the door, she returns to the waiting policemen to explain her dilemma, and we don't hear the conversation.

Brady Kimball

Now that you mention the marital discord, it definitely becomes more clear. That said, I believe it is so hidden because of Jimmy Stewart's true character. I find it hard for the Boy Scout Jimmy Stewart to have marital problems, thus the on-screen performance becomes muted. Here lies the folly of major Hollywood stars.

Perhaps an approach akin to David Fincher's Zodiac was in order: through strict repetition of anti-martial action -- Zodiac is to obsession as Man is to male dominance in times of stress -- the martial strife is palpable. By dropping us in the action, Hitchcock cannot defuse my preconceived notions of Stewart's good ol' boy persona.

That said, the climax of this movie is absolutely amazing, and there is something poetic about the boy being held at a chapel. Hitchcock had a way with portraying evil in a way that was ahead of his time.

Tom Russell

"I find it hard for the Boy Scout Jimmy Stewart to have marital problems, thus the on-screen performance becomes muted. Here lies the folly of major Hollywood stars."

I disagree rather strongly, because Mr. Stewart's persona was never really "the Boy Scout", not if you're paying attention. Look at IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE-- he's a fundamentally decent human being, to be sure, but he's one who rankles with such pent-up frustration, anger, and despair that he's nearly driven to suicide. It's a deeply moving and passionate portrait, one that matches his work in REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO for darkness, power, and psychological complexity. Or consider his performance in Ford's MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE-- more of a "boy scout", perhaps, but a boy scout who is weak, ineffectual, and living a lie.

Don't get me wrong-- Stewart was definitely a Star, and his performances all have a little bit of overlap, all draw from his star quality. But I think you're too quick to box him in and label him; I don't think it's up to Hitchcock to defuse a preconceived notion about Stewart's acting that's not really supported by a lot of Stewart's work.

I hope I'm not coming across as too uncivil, as I'm not trying to pick a fight. I just disagree strongly with your assertion.

Chuck Stephens

And that doesn't even scratch the surface of the psychos he played for Anthony Mann...

Bryce

I've always been somewhat annoyed that this movie overshadowed the original, which is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, to such an extent.

Jaime

The Stewart performances we're talking about here, it has to be said, derive at least a small part of their power in the "you wouldn't think he had it in him, he's so nice and wholesome" one-two punch of his onscreen persona, as used by Hitch, Mann, Ford, etc.

This is not an old story, either - Dick Powell kept his career alive after his goofy, boyish face aged into something more worn, cynical. He went from playing, for lack of a better word, doofuses, to characters with a lot more weight on their shoulders. Hard to trace the path that runs from FLIRTATION WALK to PITFALL, but there you are.

An early Stewart movie, that I will not reveal except to say it's a sequel to a popular classic and I like it almost as much as its original, also used the upsetting of expectations (trying really really hard not to use "ironic") intrinsic in "nice guy Jimmy Stewart." Not an effective twist, ultimately, but it tells you that, early on, movie execs were thinking of what they could do with Stewart, besides have him play smiling good ol' boys.

Jaime

Actually, the Dick Powell career doesn't serve much purpose here, discussion-wise, but I just wanted to talk about him. Is that so bad?

lipranzer

I know which sequel you're talking about, Jaime, and while I don't think it's anywhere near as good as the original, I do agree Stewart was quite good in the role and is believable once you find out his true intentions.

lazarus

The only problem with using the role I'm assuming we're talking about as an example is that it's a pretty early appearance from Stewart, and you couldn't say audiences had expectations of him being a "nice guy" in every film. He'd only been in the business for a year.

Stephanie

You can't really draw many conclusions from "After the Thin Man," which I assume is the picture under discussion. It's just too soon. I will say that Stewart is interesting (and sexy) in some of those early movies in a way that suggests a road not taken, as distinguished as his career was.

I know Hitchcock preferred the second MWKTM to his first try, but I still like #1.

Jaime

Lazarus, I could easily speculate that Stewart made the right impression on '36 audiences to make the twist make sense, at least on paper. He makes an immediate impression.

Tom Russell Is Joking, Obviously, So Just Settle Down Already

Oh, AFTER THE THIN MAN. And here I thought we were talking about FIEVEL GOES WEST.

colinr

I'm not a big fan of the Topaz sound drop outs - they seem very gimmicky to me. Though another, excellent, example of sound fade out is the bookending sound drop outs in Frenzy during the Anna Massey sequence.

Babs (sort of the Nancy Sykes of the piece, in that she comes so close to leaving her old world behind and escaping to a better future before meeting with tragedy) leaves the pub she has just quit her job as a barmaid at and pauses in the entranceway, dizzy with the possibilities, as well as maybe nervous about going to France with her beau who is on the run for the stranglings. There is no sound at all and then the real killer comes up behind her and asks her how she is and suddenly all the street noises come rushing back in a shocking aural flood. Then Rusk leads Babs through the busy streets (where she is ostensibly safe) until inviting her to stay the night at his place and then we get the pull back down the stairs from the quiet interior where Babs will become the next victim back into the busy street outside.

That is a fantastic example of well motivated audio dropouts that realy take the auidence into the minds and surroundings of the characters.

colinr

"Same here, although for me it's actually when Hank returns the singing with a whistle that this middle-aged non-academic chokes up."

I usually start tearing up when the 'bad lady' has a change of heart and tells Hank to whistle as loud as he can! It is quite smartly conceived to hit on all three of those reactions - a mother calling for her son, a son calling for his mother, and the idea that even 'bad people' can be moved to do the right thing.

Jaime

I was thinking about colinr's last comment, and choke-up moments in general. My first thought was that the moment in TMWKTM that he describes - in the way he describes it ("a mother calling for her son, a son calling for his mother, and the idea that even 'bad people' can be moved to do the right thing") - would had many a critic coming after Spielberg with a pitchfork and/or a lit torch. Which is unfortunate...

Nice write-up, Glenn - I also want to mention a favorite "Hitchcock eccentric" moment in the film, which is Ben's hallucinatory visit to the taxidermist. His hand caught in the lion's mouth!

My favorite choked-up reversal-moment in classic cinema is in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, when Geoff buys Bat a drink and lets him know that the Kid said he was okay. Hawks often gets written up as a cool, dry, laid-back dude, but man, he can lay you out when he wants to.

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