Archive for July 2010
Number Seventeen, based on a stage play by J. Jefferson Farjeon (thanks Wikipedia), takes place in an old house by a railway. Detective Gilbert (John Stuart) is looking for a valuable necklace that was robbed. While searching the old house, he and an old man named Ben (Leon M. Lion) stumble upon a dead body. Throughout the film more characters show up including a woman who falls through the roof named Nora (Anne Grey), and the actual gang of thieves responsible for the robbery, Mr. and Mrs. deaf-and-dumb Ackroyd (Henry Caine and Ann Casson) and a third. The dead body soon disappears, guns are being pulled at everyone, people keep getting locked into different rooms, the sought-after necklace is recovered, and everybody ends up on a train.
First of all, I would love to see a remake. It’s an idea with great potential, and although this production is not gold-star worthy I was really interested. Second, Leon Lion is really funny to watch on screen – he’s that bad. Can one man move their face that many different ways in the space of twenty seconds? Yes, he can. Third, the sound and music meshes together much better than Champagne (aka it was actually intentional). Fourth, the mood and pace are quite good.
Hitchcock cites this film in his famous interview with Truffaut as being a disaster. I beg to differ, Champagne was a disaster. Number Seventeen is unrealized potential. I enjoyed it, and there’s definitely some solid material to build upon. 5/10
Basic murder case. Troubled kid. Murdered father. Easy math. He was labeled guilty before the trial ever started. That’s what the jury thought also, until Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) voiced his opinion. “I’m not sure,” he said. “Well, there were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.”
A man’s life is important enough for some time and consideration. It’s not that Juror #8 is some saint or savior but just that he has the humanity to take his role seriously. “I’m not saying he’s innocent, I’m saying it’s possible.” From the very beginning there was apathy. Take the judge: “Premeditated murder is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts… …The death sentence is mandatory in this case…” He speaks with a yawn in his throat. I remember thinking, is this for real? Then, when #8 suggests, “let’s talk about it, give him an hour at least.” “Sure, we can do that.” everybody says, and they begin “stalling” time so they can at least say they considered “for an hour.” Don’t they get it?
My favorite is Juror #4 (E.G. Marshall). Unlike most of the others, he intelligently processed the details and carefully thought through the situation to come to the conclusion that he was guilty. He wasn’t motivated by baseball tickets, animosity, prejudice, indifference, fatigue, or a stuffy room. He calmly presented his reasons and argued his point in a civilized manner.
Then, of course, there’s Juror #3 (Lee J. Cobb). He’s the “Yeah, what he said!” man of the bunch. It’s going to take some tough prodding to convince him. Man, what excellent acting though.
Have you ever witnessed an argument amongst friends or colleagues and just plain enjoyed it? Whether friendly or not, arguing can be very amusing and entertaining. You wish, “Gee, why can’t I think that quick?” This movie is for you. Essentially, it’s nothing but a bunch of old men arguing. There are plenty of satisfactory shutdowns e.g. “I beg pardon…” “‘I beg pardon?’ What are you so polite about?” “For the same reason you aren’t. It’s the way I was brought up.” or “Anyone in his right mind would blow his stack. He was just trying to bait me…” “He did an excellent job.” The dialogue is the best part. “You keep coming up with these great sayings! Why don’t you send ’em in to a paper – they pay three dollars apiece!” Okay, I’m done quoting now.
There are four scenes in 12 Angry Men: Outside the courthouse, the courtroom, the jury room, and the wash room. That’s it. And the first two hardly count. It isn’t easy to pull off a full length feature film in one room but this doesn’t miss a beat. You can feel their sweat, you sense their rising tempers and their growing fatigue. The claustrophia settles in on the audience themselves. I give Sidney Lumet a big gold star for directing, he knew how to set a mood.
This movie has aged well and remains influential to modern-day filmmaking. Like I said, watch this if you enjoy a good debate. 9/10
What is this: name that tune classical edition? I heard some “Liebestraum,” some “Clair de Lune” … Beautiful stuff. Too bad it does absolutely nothing for the story. I was already very opinionated about the importance of music and sound to affect the mood of the film. This film reiterates my position. Without the usual musical cues, the mood gets lost in translation. The march begins while the characters laugh in a bedroom. It’s light and airy when she’s obviously depressed. I never knew when to be happy or sad or worried. So I usually just laughed.
Champagne is about a spoiled heiress Betty (Betty Balfour) (also the only character with a name) who uses her father’s (Gordon Harker) airplane to meet up with her lover (Jean Bradin) on a ship and run off together. Though apparently she’s not supposed to do the marriage arrangements otherwise groom-to-be will get angry and lose the desire to get hitched. Our fourth character is a mysterious man (Ferdinand von Alten) whom Betty had met while her boy was seasick and stuck in bed and revisits the scene many times throughout the movie.
The tables definitely turn when her disapproving father announces that he has lost their entire family fortune. Betty attempts to sell all her jewelry only to be robbed in the process. Totally broke, they have to rough it and unfortunately for the father, little Betty can’t cook well enough for a dog. She ultimately finds work at a restaurant where she meets up with the mysterious man and boyfriend one last time…
Etc. I’m having a hard time writing this review because I was as far from interested as I could be. Don’t get me wrong – I gave it my all, I sat through the entire thing and tried my best to appreciate what little I could. My biggest irritant was by far the music, though I can’t really blame Hitchcock for that. I’m sure he had no intention of placing nearly 50 classical pieces to play at random throughout his entire work. I suppose there’s nothing terribly wrong for the story, just the pace. The acting is fair. The only thing commendable is innovative visual technique.
I really hope I don’t have to watch this again. That’s all. 2/10
Why don’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars!
~Peter Warne, It Happened One Night (1934)
Such a classic scene. I guarantee I’ll use another quote from this movie one of these weeks… oh I love it.
It took me fifteen minutes to figure out what the heck was going on… but once I finally found my whereabouts I was pleasantly surprised. It began (both the film itself and production) as a silent but was later changed into a sound feature film, one of the very first British talkies. (It was later released as a complete silent, something I have yet to see). Blackmail is based on the play by Charles Bennett of the same title and the plot is just that. Blackmail. Starring the ever enchanting and delightful Anny Ondra as well as John Longden, Blackmail starts cooking when Alice White (Ondra) ditches her boyfriend detective Frank Webber (Longden) for a date with a Mr. Crewe (Cyril Ritchard), an artist she had agreed to meet. Their “meeting” takes them to Mr. Crewe’s private studio where Alice naively flirts the night away, unaware for much too long of Mr. Crewe’s obviously lewd intentions. Unaware, that is, until he attempts to take advantage of her and she stabs him to death.
The following day Frank is assigned to investigate the mysterious murder case. He immediately discovers Alice’s connection after finding her glove in the studio. He, unfortunately, is not the only one who knows of Alice’s involvement. Local thief Tracey (Donald Calthrop), who had seen her with Mr. Crewe the previous evening, comes to confront Alice and Frank at her father’s shop in attempts to, you guessed it, blackmail them. The film concludes with a surprisingly intense chase-scene and a satisfying end.
Chronologically speaking this is my “first” favorite. For a film made in 1929, I was genuinely invested, genuinely frightened for our leading lady, and genuinely intrigued by its plot. One scene in particular stands out to me. After Alice has returned from her rather horrifying evening, she’s sitting at the kitchen table with her parents. Another woman in the room is commenting on the murderer’s choice of a knife, and each time the word is uttered Alice’s eyes get a little wider. The word is emphasized to the point that you can practically see it typed in bold-face on the screen. Soon all we (and Alice) hear is “knife… Knife, KNIFE…” until she drops a knife onto the table. It’s so perfectly tense.
I think the thing I’m most impressed with is how gripping the story is. Many other films of this time period are far from that (The Farmer’s Wife for one). And, I mean, if we’re comparing this to something like Speed of course it isn’t similarly jam-packed with action. Nevertheless, from beginning to end it moves quickly and captures your attention.
Though stunted by awkward lip-syncing (talkies were too new to dub over in post production, and her Czech accent was too thick to suit), I am delighted with Anny Ondra. She’s as cute as they come, I also enjoyed her in The Manxman.
Overall, Blackmail is a well-made early talkie, worthwhile to any film historian or movie lover and essential to a Hitchophile. The beginning is misleading, but stick with it for fifteen minutes. It picks up. 7/10
p.s. Hitchcock’s trademark cameo in this is a new personal fave.
- Rich and Strange
- Number Seventeen
- The Manxman
- The Skin Game
- Easy Virtue
- The Lodger
- Secret Agent
9 movies. 15 days. As previously mentioned in my “goals” post a few weeks ago, my plan is to review these nine Hitchcock films before I move out. Good plan? I think so. Expect one tomorrow.
Warning: Your viewing experience can be absolutely exceptional if you watch knowing nothing about this film’s plot or the real events it depicts. That, in my opinion, is the best kind of movie watching and this film deserves that sort of attention. Suffice it to say that this is a rewarding two hours and if you have not already seen it you should stop reading immediately and go rent this. Right now.
At the dawn of the internet there’s The New Republic – referred to as the in-flight magazine of Air Force One. Its youngest reporter, Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), is the man. He always knows just what cards to play, what compliment to throw and what joke to tell to be loved, admired, and respected by everyone. He’s charming, he’s witty, he’s unfallingly polite, and he’s on every other magazine’s hot list.
Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) is the new editor of the acclaimed magazine and he’s got it rough after replacing the beloved Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria). When the news team of the online newspaper Forbes Digital brings to light potential discrepancies in Glass’s recent article “Hack Heaven”, Lane is faced with the gruelling challenge of getting to the bottom of it. Sarsgaard received a Golden Globe nom for best supporting actor in this role and he is, indeed, phenomenal. Scene after scene he hits it without a single misstep, though I am partial to a rather stirring moment near the end in which he coolly storms into the building wearing his black leather jacket, perfectly timed to Mychael Danna’s magnificent score.
The story is nothing short of fascinating. Layer upon layer it sucks you into its web of possible lies and deceit. It raises some important questions about journalistic ethics, though it may not answer the ultimate question of “what is driving this kid?” It’s a complex character study with no real rhyme or reason to his actions because pathological liars don’t always have reasons. It gets even better after it’s over and you can find out for yourself just how accurate the film’s events were, and more importantly how accurate Christensen’s performance was. Say what you want about this kid and Star Wars, but he is excellent in Shattered Glass. You may argue that he’s just as whiny as ever but this time it fits his character. Or perhaps you think he’s finally found his niche. Either way, he’s great – so I wouldn’t give up on him just yet. Featured on our DVD copy is the “60 Minutes” interview with the real Stephen Glass and after watching that I can safely say that Darth Vader hit it right on the mark.
Other notable performances go to Hank Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, and Steve Zahn in his small role (I could watch that guy in anything). The acting isn’t the film’s only strength, though. First time director Billy Ray creates a riveting drama that captivates its audience better than any other movie I’ve seen in years. It deserves a place right next to All the President’s Men as the greatest journalism movies ever made with a perfect, witty script and a satisfying end to boot.
I could watch this movie a thousand times, it’s that sharp. 10/10
“If it was sunny outside and Steve and I were both standing outside in the sun and Steve came to me and said, ‘It’s a sunny day,’ I would immediately go check with two other people to make sure it was a sunny day.” ~Chuck Lane on Stephen Glass