Monday, May 21, 2012

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2012

(Image: Starts Thursday Blog)

The good news is here at last! 
 

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has published the schedule of films for the summer event. The festival runs from July 12 through July 15th at the gorgeous Castro Theater. All films are screening at the Castro with plenty of time in between films for a break to nosh at some of the local eateries in the neighborhood. Buy your tickets and/or festival pass here.

Right off the bat, one of the films that I am most excited about seeing is The Canadian, highly recommended from friends who were fortunate enough to have seen it a few years back.  I am also extremely excited to get a chance to see The Spanish Dancer with Pola Negri.  This will be my first Negri silent on the big screen.  We're treated to two films with Clara Bow featured, Wings and Mantrap.  It's always a real pleasure to see anything with Clara Bow.  Wings has recently been restored to much acclaim and has been on the fesitval circuit, I'm looking forward to it.  It's a film I've always enjoyed on the big screen.  The Mont Alto Orchestra will return to San Francisco for this, gotta love it.

Ernst Lubitsch gets to show off the pre-Hollywood spectacle version of a Lubitsch film with The Loves of Pharaoh.  The amazing trailer can be seen here.  The massive sets and huge cast look like it will out-de Mille Mr. Cecil B. de Mille. 
Fans of Louise Brooks will have a new restoration of Pandora's Box to look forward to.  This new restoration boasts some added footage.  The fabulous Matti Bye Ensemble will play for the film, that's an event in iteself.
 
 
At the festival last year we enjoyed a rare Marlene Dietrich silent film, this year we will see one of her mentor's.  Josef von Sternberg's late 1920's silent films The Docks of New York.
Not only will be swashbuckling with Antonio Moreno and Pola Negri in the aforementioned The Spanish Dancer, we'll get to see Douglas Fairbanks in his first big action costume role, The Mark of Zorro.  Dennis James will be playing the mighty Wurlitzer and that will be a grand event as it always is.

We're also being treated to what promises to be another wonderful film starring the great Chinese actress Ruan Lingyu in Little Toys

The 1925 version of the hoary tearjerker Stella Dallas starring Belle Bennett is reputed to be the best version.  The fact that Ronald Colman is also cast holds no attraction for me whatsoever.  (Snort, I am lying, bigtime)  I'm looking forward to using a box of kleenex for this one.

Stephen Horne and Donald Sosin will fill out the musical slots as they capably and entertainingly do.

The remainder of the lineup is shown below.  I hope to be doing a bit more blogging about what's in store in July.  This is simply an amuse bouche to get your mouth watering, as is mine!  See you in July!



Wings
Thursday, Jul 12, 2012 7:00 PM
Opening Night
Accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Foley sound effects by Ben Burtt
USA, 1927, approximately 141 minutes
Directed by William Wellman
Cast: Clara Bow, Richard Arlen, Buddy Rogers, Gary Cooper

The screening of Wings will be followed by an opening night party at the McRoskey Mattress Company on Market Street.

Opening Night Party
McRoskey Mattress Company
Thursday, Jul 12, 2012 9:30 PM

Amazing Tales from the Archives
Friday, Jul 13, 2012 10:30 AM
Archivists and film historians – to be announced! - will shed light on their work to find, rescue, and preserve cinematic treasures for generations to come.

Admission to this event is free. You do not need a ticket, but please arrive 15 minutes early to guarantee a seat.



Little Toys
Friday, Jul 13, 2012 1:00 PM
(XIAO WANYI)
Accompanied by Donald Sosin on the grand piano
China, 1933, approximately 110 minutes
Directed by Sun Yu
Cast: Ruan Lingyu, Li Lili



The Loves of Pharaoh
Friday, Jul 13, 2012 4:00 PM
(DAS WEIB DES PHARAO)
Accompanied by Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer
Germany, 1922, approximately 100 minutes
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Cast: Emil Jannings, Dagny Servaes, Paul Biensfeldt, Friedrich Kühne



Mantrap
Friday, Jul 13, 2012 7:00 PM
Accompanied by Stephen Horne on the grand piano
USA, 1926, approximately 71 minutes
Dir. Victor Fleming
Cast: Clara Bow, Ernest Torrence, Percy Marmont, Eugene Pallette



The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna
Friday, Jul 13, 2012 9:15 PM
(DIE WUNDERBARE LÜGE DER NINA PETROWNA)
Accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Germany, 1929, approximately 115 minutes
Directed by Hanns Schwarz
Cast: Brigitte Helm, Francis Lederer, Warwick Ward, Lya Jan


Irrepressible Felix the Cat!
Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 10:00 AM
Accompanied by Donald Sosin and Toychestra
USA, 1925–1929, Approximate total running time: 70 minutes
Created by Otto Mesmer and Pat Sullivan



The Spanish Dancer
Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 12:00 PM
Accompanied by Donald Sosin on the grand piano
USA, 1923, approximately 105 minutes
Directed by Herbert Brenon
Cast: Pola Negri, Antonio Moreno, Wallace Beery, Kathlyn Williams, Adolphe Menjou



The Canadian
Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 2:30 PM
Accompanied by Stephen Horne on the grand piano.
USA, 1926, approximately 88 minutes
Directed by William Beaudine
Cast: Thomas Meighan, Mona Palma, Wyndham Standing, Dale Fuller

South
Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 5:00 PM
Accompanied by Stephen Horne on the grand piano, with Paul McGann narrating.
United Kingdom, 1919, approximately 72 minutes
Directed by Frank Hurley



Pandora's Box
Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 7:00 PM
Accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble
Germany, 1929, approximately 143 minutes
Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Cast: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, Carl Gotz

The Overcoat
Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 10:00 PM
(SHINEL)
Accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra
USSR 1926, approximately 71 minutes
Directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg
Cast: Andrei Kostrichkin, Antonina Yeremeyeva, Sergei Gerasimov



The Mark of Zorro
Sunday, Jul 15, 2012 10:00 AM
Accompanied by Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer
USA, 1920, approximately 90 minutes
Directed by Fred Niblo
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Marguerite De La Motte, Noah Beery



The Docks of New York
Sunday, Jul 15, 2012 12:00 PM
Accompanied by Donald Sosin on the grand piano
USA, 1928, approximately 76 minutes
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Cast: George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova, Clyde Cook


Erotikon
Sunday, Jul 15, 2012 2:00 PM
Accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble
Sweden, 1920, approximately 106 minutes
Directed by Mauritz Stiller
Cast: Anders de Wahl, Tora Teje, Lars Hanson, Karin Molande



Stella Dallas
Sunday, Jul 15, 2012 4:30 PM
Accompanied by Stephen Horne on the grand piano
USA, 1925, approximately 120 minutes
Directed by Henry King
Cast: Ronald Colman, Belle Bennett, Alice Joyce, Jean Hersholt



The Cameraman
Sunday, Jul 15, 2012 7:30 PM
Accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
USA, 1928, approximately 76 minutes
Directed by Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin

The Cameraman screens with the restoration of Georges Melies 1902 film A Trip to the Moon

Friday, May 18, 2012

Passionate Adventure - For the Love of Film III

Today's bonus post is by my good friend, fellow blogger and author of Hollywoodland, Mary Mallory.  Mary is also a photo archivist at the Margaret Herrick Library as well as being an expert on the Selznick empire.

Selznick Pictures was one of the top independent studios of the late 1910s and early 1920s. Owned and run by Lewis J. Selznick and his sons Myron and David, the company turned out high quality films starring the like of Constance Talmadge, Norma Talmadge, Clara Kimball Young, Owen Moore, Elsie Janis, and Olive Thomas. They released their films on a states' right basis, and as other companies established their own distribution companies, Selznick began having problems distributing their films into theatres. Stars such as the Talmadges and Young moved on, Thomas died, and cash flow became a problem.


Alice Joyce and Clive Brook


By 1924, the Selznicks were in bankruptcy and producing few films, acting mainly as a distribution company for quality, literate productions from both the United States and England. In fact, older son Myron had traveled to Europe to produce some of their films there. He hoped to produce Edward Montagne's "Dangerous Women" while in London, a story set there and in Monte Carlo, as the "Los Angeles Times" noted in April 1924. A gossip column in the August 6, 1924 "Los Angeles Times" put in perspective one of Selznick's main reasons for traveling to England; Marjorie Daw had split from Eddie Sutherland. As they stated, "You know, Myron Selznick always has admired Marjorie very much. I wonder.... ." Daw costarred in the Selznick film "The Passionate Adventure," produced and directed by Graham Cutts, starring Clive Brook, Victor McLaglen, and Alice Joyce, and featuring Alfred Hitchcock as writer, art director, and assistant director.



The film was based on Frank Stayton's book "The Passionate Adventure," which ads by The Century Company in the September 14, 1924 "New York Times" called, "The liveliest novel that has come out of England in many months." Sounding like a combination of post traumatic stress syndrome and a reverse "My Man Godfrey," "The Passionate Adventure" is the story of a London exquisite, the husband of a lovely wife and the possessor of ample wealth, who comes back from the World War so changed psychically that he feels compelled to spend part of his time in that city's darkest slum section. He lives among thieves and murderers as one of them and is the object of a beautiful pickpocket's fiercely loyal love. It is a remarkably readable novel."



Daw spoke to the "Los Angeles Times" in March 1925 about working in England. She noted that American producers had signed both Brook and McLaglen after noticing their work in her film and several others. Daw stated that foreign producers copied American ideas and were producing films in the same efficient manner as American studios, but were seriously handicapped "..because they have no climate even suggestive of Southern California." The weather delayed production of the film but overall she considered it a pleasing adventure.



The film opened in June 1925 in New York City at the Loew's Lexington. "Variety" called it "...a serious sex play of high order in that the direction and action seem both concentrated on the story itself rather than the proposition of emphasizing whatever of sex is contained therein...For a British production, this is up to the American standard of high-grade program releases. The direction is excellent, the continuity air-tight, and the acting up to scratch." The review noted that the title was based on a saying of Oscar Wilde's "that passion is the only serious thing in life." They also stated that "It is a high-grade film for high-grade audiences... ."



Myron Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock obviously enjoyed each other's company, as the still notes their playful attitude towards each other. Selznick kept in touch with the director, particularly with his growing English success in the early to mid 1930s. Selznick suggested that the director should move to America for better opportunities, recognition, and pay, with Selznick representing him as agent. This correspondence finally bore fruit when Hitchcock moved to America in 1939 to work for Myron's brother David at Selznick International Pictures, with Selznick acting as agent.


Myron Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock
For the Love of Film is a fundraising blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod. I am honored to be a participant for such a worthy and noble cause. If you like what you've been reading, or not, please consider making a donation to the NFPF to help reach the goal of making what remains of the 1923 film The White Shadow available for online streaming. Any amount is a welcome and is tax deductable. Be it $5, $10, $20 or $100, no amount it too small to help reach the goal of $15,000. Donate Here or hit the pic of Hitch or the donatation button to the right. By all means, just donate!

The Mountain Eagle - For the Love of Film III

Nita Naldi as Beatrice Brent (Image: BFI)
 The Mountain Eagle is Alfred Hitchcock's second feature film, and the only one from his lengthy career that is lost.  No print is known to exist, making it one of the holiest “holy grails” of cinema.  I’ll raise my hand and join the legions aching to see the film, not only because it’s a lost Hitchcock,  but also because it stars my favorite cinema vamp, Nita Naldi, in the unlikely role of a rural schoolmarm.  In which case, it’s a very good thing the film was silent!  Naldi was great fun and not averse to the divinely theatrical in manner of speech; she never let the truth get in the way of telling a story.

Nita Naldi and Bernard Goetzke

Hitchcock recalled greeting Nita Naldi at the Munich train station.  She stepped off the train, he wrote, and “Munich quite audibly gasped.”  She was every inch the diva:
…glamorous, dark, Latin, Junoesque, statuesque, slinky, with slanting eyes, four-inch heels, nails like a mandarin’s and a black dog to match her black-swathed dress. 
She also traveled with her “Papa,” who was not her father, but her longtime beau and future husband J. Searle Barclay. 
Hitchcock further recalled,
I shall never forget one afternoon.  We had been working hard all the day, and Nita was nearly all in.  She had to play one more scene, where she was cleaning Malcolm Keen’s rifle when a face appeared at the window and she pointed the gun at him.
The scene was going well, when, just as she turned the gun to the window, I saw it waver.  It veered from side to side.  It moved up and down.  It went round in circles.
Then, without a word, Nita tilted to one side and fell headlong.
The floor was very hard . . . The set was built on a foundation of stones set in cement.  Before the camera had even stopped turning, she had recovered.  And all she said was:  “Why don’t they build these lousy sets right over here?  This floor’s too gol-darned hard for comfort!”

Well, we already know Nita was a handful and one of the many silent stars I wish I’d been able to meet and have dinner with.  Given Hitch’s love of food and earthy, naughty women, Nita must have been much good fun during the shoot.  We know Hitchcok and Alma socialized with Nita in Paris in 1926.  I wonder if they had any further contact later in New York.  If they did, regretably, there is no record of it. 


Nita Naldi and Malcolm Keen
The film was slated to begin shooting in October 1925 under the title Fearogod (according to The Bioscope).  By November 5, the magazine announced a title change to The Mountain Eagle.  It was noted that Nita Naldi was cast on November 19 and the film was nearing completion by mid-December.  In reality, the film did not finish until almost January 1926.  Exteriors were filmed in Obergurgl, where the Austrian Tyrol stood in for the unspecified rural mountain village called for in the story. Bad weather during the shooting was a constant source of trouble.  The film was released in October 1926 and garnered some good reviews, though by no means a smash hit. 

Alfred Hitchcock did not think much of the film and felt it was best forgotten.  During the interviews chronicled by Francois Truffaut in the indispensible Hitchcock / Truffaut, Hitchcock described the film as being "awful" and added "[he was] not sorry there are no known prints."  Was this a true sentiment or just another of the Master’s beloved quips?  We’ll never know.
So what can we say about The Mountain Eagle? Let me pause right here to note that I owe much of what follows to the late J. L. Kuhns and his research on this film.  His paper Filmography Notes on The Mountain Eagle, presented during the 1996 Hitchcock Conference at Baylor University, filled loads of holes for me; I’m grateful for the information.

On the set, a famous image of Hitchcock and Alma as he's directing The Mountain Eagle (Image: BFI)
The following synopsis has been reproduced elsewhere, but was originally published in The Bioscope of 7 October 1926:
Beatrice Brent (Nita Naldi), school teacher in a small mountain village, incurs the enmity of Pettigrew (Bernard Goetzke), the local Justice of the Peace and owner of the village stores, because he believes that she encourages the attentions of his son Edward (John F. Hamilton), a cripple, who takes evening lessons. Pettigrew, while questioning Beatrice, is himself influenced by her charm and attempts liberties which she strongly resents. He is so furious at the rebuff that he proclaims her as a wanton and she is driven from the village by the inhabitants. Beatrice is saved from their fury by a mysterious stranger known as Fearogod (Malcolm Keen), who lives a solitary life in a cabin to which he takes her for shelter. To stop all scandal, Fearogod takes Beatrice down to the village and compels Pettigrew to marry them, explaining to her that he will help her to get a divorce. Beatrice, however, is content to leave the situation as it is, but Pettigrew, furious with rage, takes advantage of the fact that his son has left the village and arrests Fearogod for his murder. In spite of the fact that there is no vestige of evidence that young Pettigrew has been murdered, Fearogod is kept in prison for over a year, when he decides to escape. He finds that his wife has a baby and he goes off with them to the mountains. When they find that the baby is taken ill, Fearogod goes back to the village for a doctor, where he sees old Pettigrew. Some doubt as to which of the men is going to attack the other first is settled by an onlooker firing off a gun which wounds Pettirgrew in the shoulder. The sudden return of his son Edward convinces the old man of the futility of proceeding with his accusations of murder, so he makes the best of matters by shaking hands with the man he persecuted and all is supposed to end happily.

Okay, so it's not reading like Gone With the Wind, is it?
Bernard Goetzke getting a hair and makeup adjustment from Alma Reville (Image: BFI)

A contemporary review of the film in Kinematograph Weekly stated that "Alfred Hitchcock's direction is, as usual, thoroughly imaginative," but complained that "he has rather over-stressed the slow tempo, and has had a story which is too full of unconvincing twists." It praised the characterization and noted that "many individual scenes are very cleverly handled," concluding, "the mountain scenery is good, and the small village interiors and exteriors are also sound. Baron Ventimiglia's photography is excellent."


John Hamilton as Edward and Bernard Goetzke as Pettigrew (Image: BFI)
The Bioscope gave a fuller assessment:
In Brief: The story of a feud between two men in a small mountain village, which is lacking in conviction but of interest because of skillfull direction and good acting.
Suitability: The undoubted artistic merits of the production should compensate for the weakness of the story.
Direction: The producer, Alfred Hitchcock, has not been particularly well served by his author, and in spite of skillful and at times brilliant direction, the story has an air of unreality. The locality is not indicated, though the village in which the action takes place is obviously continental. This ambiguity may be intentional and to account for the way in which Pettigrew imposes his will on the people with as utter a disregard for law or justice as any villain of Western drama. That a man could be kept in prison for a year on a charge for which there is not the slightest evidence, and in spite of the fact that the prisoner is the most popular man in the district while the oppressor is the worst hated, is against all reason and lacks conviction as much as Pettigrew's facile repentance at the end.
Acting: Bernhard Goetzke gives a fine performance as Pettigrew, and his strong and intellectual face makes his conduct all the more incongruous. Malcolm Keen is admirable as Fearogod, and Nita Naldi achieves considerable success in a part which has fewer opportunities than generally fall to her share. Many small character parts are most admirably played and very skillfully directed.
Staging and Photography: Beautiful pictures of mountain scenery in summer and winter, and picturesque timber interiors, are shown with unusually artistic lighting effects and excellent photography.
Bernard Goetzke as Pettigrew (Image: BFI)
Kuhn’s paper quotes another contemporary review which was found in the Hitchcock scrapbook of press clippings for The Lodger, in which "Lolita," writing for “The Film of the Week” column in Modern, 19 February 1927, notes that:
Some weeks ago I mentioned his first production, The Pleasure GardenThe Lodger is his third picture, although it comes second in order of release to the public. His second, The Mountain Eagle, is due in May and incidentally, is one of the finest pictures of the year. 
The Lodger is not so brilliant as The Mountain Eagle, but nevertheless is well worth seeing.
Is that tantalizing, or what? Me?  I’m still trying to wrap my head around Nita Naldi as a prim schoolmarm who has the wherewithal to handle a shotgun. 

Judging only on the stills alone, this looks like it would be a film well worth watching.  Atmospheric, dark, forboding and some hauntingly beautiful stills extant of leading lady Nita Naldi.  The BFI has a small collection, most of which I culled from their website to illustrate this article.  The Margaret Herrick Library holds what is the largest collection of stills for the film, between 30-35 images which came from the Hitchcock collection.  Two 8x10 vintage stills were recently auctioned with a hammer price of nearly $500!

No poster art is known to exist, save a single lobby card in a private collection showing a german shepherd.  No clue how the dog fits into the story, but he reminds me of another silent superstar, Rinty.

Additional information and some contemporary articles can be found on the Nita Naldi website, scroll down on the filmography page for some more good stuff on The Mountain Eagle.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1926 film The Mountain Eagle is Number 1 on the BFI list as one of the MostWanted lost films.

Luke McKernan of The Bioscope (an incredibly informative and well produced blog I cannot recommend more highly) gave us a review of The Mountain Eagle during his brilliant and inspired Festival of Lost Films in 2008.  I wish he’d do this again!


Malcolm Keen as Fearogod
Today is the final day of the blogathon. On a personal note I have to give it up to Farran, Marilyn and Rod for all their hard work behind the scenes and in the planning of this massive event. Reading the postings by the other bloggers has been fabulous, educational, and most importantly, fun. It's an honor to participate in an event in which we all share the same passion.   I've had a blast and have learned so much. 

Our work, however, is not complete.  I hope that people reading my humble musings have read the rest and have donated a little cash for the kitty. I know times are tough for everyone, myself included. A $5 donation for the love of film would mean so much to the National Film Preservation Foundation and make a rare film available for online streaming. Is $5 such a hardship, I hope it's not. You may not have heard of Graham Cutts before the blogathon, but you certainly know the name and films of Alfred Hitchcock. Do it for Hitch!


For the Love of Film is a fundraising blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod. I am honored to be a participant for such a worthy and noble cause. If you like what you've been reading, or not, please consider making a donation to the NFPF to help reach the goal of making what remains of the 1923 film The White Shadow available for online streaming. Any amount is a welcome and is tax deductable. Be it $5, $10, $20 or $100, no amount it too small to help reach the goal of $15,000. Donate Here or hit the pic of Hitch or the donatation button to the right. By all means, just donate!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hitch Pix - For the Love of Film III

Hitch was as much a star as any of the actors in any of his films.  He was canny with publicity and whether he wanted to admit it or not, he was a skilled performer with more than a little ham in him.

Here are some of my favorite pics of Alfred Hitchcock on and off the set.

Let's start with this remarkable (and new to me) series of double exposures of Hitch taken during the filming of Shadow of a Doubt.  Note the rehearsal sequence with a willing Teresa Wright and Hitch stepping in as Uncle Charlie.





In what may be a nod to his days in silent film, Hitch poses with an early camera (the geeks will be able to tell me if this is a Biograph camera or not)

This one is for The Siren

Jimmy Stewart and Hitch on the set. 



Hitch enjoying the end of his lunch


I have to close this with a tribute to Alma Hitchcock.  I truly feel that without Alma, there would have been no Hitchcock, his partner in life, behind the scenes, in the scenarios and scripts and in the kitchen. 


It is clear Alma was not immune to a little spoofing.

Here is Hitch and Alma on their wedding day in 1926.


Hitch and Alma around the time of Family Plot.

While Hitch was truly a genius, I have not a doubt in the world to make such a blanket statement.  Alma was his linchpin, his wingman and she was a very capable and talented in her own right.

Hitch acknowledged her so sweetly when he accepted the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1979.  I think he said it best.


For the Love of Film is a fundraising blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod. I am honored to be a participant for such a worthy and noble cause. If you like what you've been reading, or not, please consider making a donation to the NFPF to help reach the goal of making what remains of the 1923 film The White Shadow available for online streaming. Any amount is a welcome and is tax deductable. Be it $5, $10, $20 or $100, no amount it too small to help reach the goal of $15,000. Donate Here or hit the pic of Hitch or the donatation button to the right. By all means, just donate!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Don't be a Psycho! - For the Love of Film III

Okay, it seems everyone is enjoying reading all the fantabulous postings. I certainly know I am. What people are not doing is donating to the worthy cause.  Cue Bernard Hermann's Psycho Soundtrack.


Please, don't be a Psycho! DONATE NOW

How much do you spend when you go to the movies? $14 for your ticket to a 3D film? Add in another $15 or $20 for a large popcorn and a soda? Or do you go out to dinner and a movie? $50 for an evening of entertainment?

Do the math here. $10 will do some real good and on top of that you will get a chance to win some fabulous prizes! For the Love of Film.

Are we not being clear? DONATE NOW

I'm going to shamelessly steal from The Self Styled Siren's blog:

Greetings, writers and friends to film preservation. The Siren's corner of the Web continues today as home page for our blogathon to benefit the National Film Preservation Foundation, For the Love of Film.

This year, as we've been trumpeting for a good long while, our blogathon is raising money for the NFPF's efforts to stream online three reels of the once-lost, now-found 1923 silent movie, The White Shadow. This U.K. melodrama was directed by one Graham Cutts, but it has another hook: It is the first film we have that featured a major contribution from one Alfred Hitchcock. The young Hitchcock, according to his biographers, was assistant director, wrote the title cards, edited, designed the sets, decorated the sets, and just generally worked like crazy learning everything he could about how to make a film. And this training-to-make-films wheeze worked out pretty well, as you know.

The White Shadow has already been preserved and restored, and was screened by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles last fall. The Siren wasn't there, and most of you probably weren't, either. Given the level of historic interest (and artistic interest, too--the good folks at the NFPF say this one's an eyeful), that's a shame. We are in a position to do something about it, though. Our goal: to raise $15,000 so the NFPF can put The White Shadow online for three months, with a recorded score by Michael Mortilla, a man with a long history of composing splendid music for silent films.

This blogathon is about raising dough, so if you have not done so, please click the button to the right and DONATE NOW

Give a little, I promise, it won't hurt!  If you don't give Norman Bates will find you!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Pleasure Garden - For the Love of Film III

Today's excellent contribution for the blogathon is authored by my good friend, scholar and fellow Daughter of Naldi Joan Myers. 


Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden (1925) was the first film produced by Michael Balcon’s Gainsborough Pictures in association with the Munich-based production company Emelka, a Bavarian company formed in 1918 as a commercial alternative to the more artistic productions of Berlin-based UFA.  Photography was by Baron Gaetano di Ventimiglia, who had worked in Hollywood, Berlin, Nice, and Islington and would go on to lens both The Mountain Eagle and The Lodger for Hitchcock.  Editor and assistant director duties were undertaken by Hitchcock’s wife and most frequent collaborator, Alma Reville.  The scenario by Eliot Stannard was based on a 1923 romantic novel by Oliver Sandys (the pen name of popular novelist Marquerite Florence Barclay, whose books had been successfully adapted for both stage and screen).


Cast as leads were Virginia Valli and Carmelita Geraghty, American actresses who had both enjoyed success in the U.S. but whose careers did not survive the advent of sound, and British actors Miles Mander and John Stuart, whose careers were considerably more long-lived. The role of Mander’s native mistress is persistently and inaccurately credited to silent screen vamp Nita Naldi, which is mystifying since Naldi’s name appears nowhere in the credits and the actress playing the native girl bears no resemblance to her.  Naldi was still in the U.S. at the time the film was shot and did not embark for Europe until after filming wrapped, so although we don’t know who the native girl was, we know she wasn’t Naldi. 
Not Nita
Filming on The Pleasure Garden began in the last week in May 1925 and was completed by August 1925. Exteriors were shot in Genoa, San Remo, and Lake Como while the sets were being constructed at Geiselgasteig Studio in Munich. Nightclub dance sequences were shot in a glass-roofed set in late July 1925, in conditions made miserable by summer heat.  

The film is a programmer, and a programmer that starts out being one story and ends up being another, not altogether successfully. Patsy (Valli), a chorus girl with more moral fiber than is economically sound for a chorus girl, offers a helping hand to newbie Jill (Geraghty), whose kewpie doll face masks the heart of a sharpie.  Jill is engaged to stalwart Hugh (Stuart), who is going off to work in “the East,” an exotic locale that is never geographically defined. Hugh introduces Patsy and Jill to his well-dressed co-worker, Levett (Mander), and toddles away to toil in the tropics. While Hugh toils, Jill ignores her engagement ring and dates up, finally bagging a Russian prince. Patsy has fallen in love with Hugh but must remain true blue to her less worthy friend and so marries Levett, which is inexplicable because he oozes caddishness like baby back ribs ooze barbecue sauce. After an idyllic honeymoon at Lake Como, Levett too departs for “the East,” while Patsy goes back to hoofing.  At this point, The Pleasure Garden ceases being a “backstage with the chorus” story and becomes a tale of “white men whose character is tested in the tropics.”


Upon arrival in “the East,” Mander immediately resumes what is obviously a long-standing affair with a native maiden, but soon comes down with a fever. Patsy rushes to “the East” to nurse him. Through the magic of editing she arrives the next day, but discovers him in the arms of his native mistress, whereupon he drowns the poor girl and then threatens to kill Patsy.  Happily he’s shot by the local doctor ex machina, who informs Patsy that there is another white fever victim who needs nursing. Experienced movie-goers will not be surprised to learn that it is Hugh, who has found out about the Russian. He and Patsy live happily ever after. 

In other words, art it ain’t. 

The film was released November 3, 1925 in Germany and trade shown in London in March 1926; it played at the Capitol Theater in Haymarket in April 1926. UK reviews of the film were limp, although Hitchcock himself was singled out as a young man on the move.  

The Observer, April 14, 1926: Mr. Hitchcock, the young English director, is here saddled with a complicated story, and, while its raggedness has in the main overcome him, he has made some of it so interesting as to make one eager and optimistic for his future.

The Pleasure Garden was brought to the U.S. with a group of Gainsboroughs by the American distributor Arthur Lee for the Lee-Bradford (Artlee) Company. It played at Loew’s in New York for one day in October 1926. U.S. reviews were cranky:

Photoplay, January 1927: A foreign picture. And “can they make wiener schnitzels? Yes, they can make wiener schnitzels.” Two American girls - Virginia Valli and Carmelita Geraghty - got into this one by mistake.

Variety, November 3, 1926: A sappy chorus picture, probably intended for the sappy sticks where they still fall for this sort of a chorus girl story. Those are about the only places which could use “The Pleasure Garden,” other than the one-dayers and Loew's New York, a one-dayer doubled up with 'Dangerous Friends,' even worse.

Although Balcon had reportedly been pleased with the film at its Munich showing, The Pleasure Garden, as well as Hitchcock’s next English-German picture, The Mountain Eagle, was shelved as unreleaseable.  It wasn’t till January 1927 that the two films were released as a buildup to his thriller The Lodger. The film quickly languished and died, and Hitchcock went on to bigger and better things. 

Because The Pleasure Garden is the Master’s first directorial effort, it is tempting to see more in the film than what may be there.  There are undoubtedly interesting cinematic moments in The Pleasure Garden, moments we recognize in hindsight as distinctly “Hitchcockian”: voyeurism, as the male audience salivates while watching chorus girls; an overhead shot of the nightclub stage; a UFA-esque shot of a spiral staircase with chorus girls scrambling down it; Patsy waving her tear-stained handkerchief in farewell to Levett, which fades into the hand of his native mistress welcoming him home; a psychopathic murderer threatening the heroine. (The reported Sapphic undertones in the scene where Jill and Patsy undress for bed in Patsy’s tiny bedroom bypassed me completely. All I saw were two girls sharing a small room because they couldn’t afford more. Color me insensitive to subtext.)  It is a journeyman effort, a pleasant way to spend an hour or so, but easily forgotten. Because it is Hitchcock’s first film it deserves critical study, but there is no way around it—there are better films out there.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Pleasure Garden is that it illustrates the rapidity with which Hitchcock completed his journeyman requirements. His second film, The Mountain Eagle, is lost, so unless a print of that work is eventually found, we have only The Pleasure Garden as evidence of the first phase of Hitchcock’s long directorial career. Six months after completing this effort, he began filming his first masterwork: The Lodger. 

For the Love of Film is a fundraising blogathon hosted by Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod .  I am pleased  to be participating in this righteous cause. Please help make the 1923 film The White Shadow available for online streaming by donating to the NFPF.  Be it $5, $10, $20 or $100, no amount it too small to help reach the goal of $15,000 and it’s tax deductible! Donate Here (or click the donation button to the right or the photo of Hitch from Dial M for Murder). 

Family Plot - For the Love of Film III



Family Plot is a film I really love.  It was the first film of Alfred Hitchcock that I saw multiple times.  I’m going to date myself here, the multiple viewings was a direct result of an embryonic cable television station called Home Box Office which screened this film a whole lot.  Of course, they also screened Peter Bogdonovich’s regrettable At Long Last Love as many times.  Regardless of the fact the film featured the always delightful Madeline Kahn, does not mean I watched that painful film more than once.  It’s still a bitter memory.  Family Plot, however, was another matter entirely.  I watched it repeatedly and enjoyed it every single time.  I still have a very fond memory of the film.  It has been far too long since I screened it and I’m happy to have the excuse to revisit it for the film preservation blogathon.

The story involves low-rent psychic, Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) stringing along a wealthy client, Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbit).  Rainbird has been suffering from sleep problems which she feels is the result of guilt and sorrow for forcing her now deceased younger sister’s illegitimate child to be given away to a nameless family.  She enlists Blanche and her psychic guide Henry to find the now adult child so Rainbird can make things right and declare and recognize him as the rightful heir to the Rainbird fortune.  To sweeten the deal, Rainbird offers Blanche $10,000.00 cash if she finds the heir.

Blanche and Henry (presumably) are helped by Blanche’s sometime actor, more often than not cab driver and amateur detective boyfriend George Lumley (Bruce Dern) to find the missing man.  As Blanche and George drive off, Blanche and George banter back and forth, at one point George nearly strikes a pedestrian crossing the street.  And we now cut to the second “family plot” of the story. 

Fran (Karen Black) crosses the street and enters a gated enclosure, armed with a gun and a note, she’s led into the office (looking suspiciously like Hitchcock’s office on the Universal lot) where she’s met by the police and an FBI agent.  It is made clear that she is there to collect a ransom, a huge diamond.  She then boards a police helicopter and instructs the pilot where to take her, the local golf course.  She walks across the fairway and meets Arthur Adamson (William Devane) who examines the jewel.  On the ground is the subject of the ransom, a man called Constantine (Nicholas Colasanto).  They drive off and while making their escape, Fran peels off what is revealed to be her disguise.  They soon arrive at their house and drive into the garage.  It’s revealed, their side business is kidnapping and ransom, completed with a soundproofed room, and that Adamson is a jewel collector.  Fran stores her blonde wig in the vegetable bin in the fridge (storing away the ice-cool Hitchcock blonde, I love that) and Adamson hides the diamond “where everyone can see it” (taped in the chandelier).

George masquerading as an attorney (McBride) finds Mrs. Hannigan (the always delightful Marge Redmond), the daughter of the former chauffeur to the Rainbird family in the hope she can illuminate him.  Sadly, as her tale unfolds, she relates her parents are long dead, but she remembers a night with her father bringing home a child and delivering it to their friends, Sadie and Harry Shoebridge.  George brightens up at this news, only to have his hopes dashed that not only are Sadie and Harry Shoebridge dead, she thinks the son is too, all burned in a house fire.  She suggests he head to the local cemetery to see for himself.

George makes his way to the Barlow Creek cemetery and finds the graves of the Shoebridge clan.  Frustratingly, it's a dead end.  In a wonderful Hamlet like moment, the gravedigger (John Steadman) rises up behind George from the grave he’s been digging.  George notices that the headstones appear to have been placed at different times.  The marker for Edward Shoebridge is much newer than the parental Shoebridges.  “Smart fellow!”  Perhaps not such a dead end after all!



George pays a visit to the stone carver Mr. Wheeler (Charles Tyner) to see if he can determine who bought the new marker for the younger Shoebridge.  In his prodding Wheeler reveals that the sale was made 15 years after the fact and the rumor is that the younger Shoebridge set the fire himself and tells him that there is no body in the grave.  He also gives George a name, J.P. Maloney (Ed Lauter) as the man who bought the stone.  A visit to the County Clerk’s office give George a clue to Maloney’s whereabouts.  Staking out Maloney’s garage George puts a scare in Maloney who pays a visit to the jeweler Arthur Adamson, and it’s revealed he is the thought to be long dead Edward Shoebridge. 



Adamson plots his next kidnapping and ransom, Bishop Wood, former parson at his childhood church and the only person left who can identify Edward Shoebridge.  Fran is got up as an elder lady and Arthur as a deacon.  George makes his way to the church (Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill in San Francisco) and from the back sees the end of the service and inquires on how to make an appointment with Bishop Wood.  As the Bishop leaves the pulpit, Fran begins to walk past him and promptly faints, the Bishop kneels to help and Arthur comes to her aid.  The pair jab the Bishop with a powerful drug and he collapses in a stupor, they grab him and whisk him away.  The staid church members and George stand there helpless as they watch the kidnapping, doing nothing.

Maloney is enlisted to put Blanche and George off the scent.  Maloney calls the pair and arranges to meet them at a distant roadhouse.  They arrive and wait for Maloney, all the while George is nursing a couple of beers (not something to do today).  Maloney shows up and cuts the brake line of their car in the parking lot.  Lamenting they’ve been stood up, the pair leave and quickly learn they’ve got no brakes.  This is a terrific set piece from the film, most of it taken from the viewpoint inside the car, the acceleration and the twists and turns on the mountain roads.  George’s skill as a driver is fully utilized and he manages to get the car pulled off and it rolls gently off an embankment on its side. 



Blanche and George while physically unhurt now face a long walk.  In moments Maloney drives up and offers them a ride all the while apologizing for being late.  George confronts him, knowing he cut the brakes.  Maloney plays dumb and drives off.  They continue walking and soon see Maloney’s car turned around and heading straight for them.  He’s trying to run them over.  Now the chase resumes as they run and in an instant, Maloney narrowly misses a convertible filled with teenagers and his car goes off the road and down the cliff.  The sound of a crash, the start of a fire and a huge plume of smoke comes up signaling Maloney’s demise.  Blanche in a rare moment of compassion says they need to get to a phone to call the police.  George chimes in cheerily, “What!? And lose the $10,000.00??”


Next scene George returns to the Barlow Creek cemetery for Maloney’s funeral.  He stands off to the side while the prayers are read.  He spies Maloney’s widow (Katherine Helmond) who also fixes an eye on him.  Here we are treated to another Hitchcockian set piece, the maze like crane shot following the pair as they criss-cross the cemetery.  George in pursuit and Maloney’s widow trying to escape.  They meet near the Shoebridge graves, the cause of all the misery.  George presses her for information and she finally relents and identifies Eddie Shoebridge as a man called Arthur Adamson.  In her grief and frustration she kicks the headstone, and knocks it aside yelling “fake fake!”    Hitchcockian set piece, the maze like crane shot following the pair as they criss-cross the cemetery.  George in pursuit and Maloney's widow trying to escape.  They meet near the Shoebridge graves, the cause of all the misery.  George presses her for information and she finally relents and identifies Eddie Shoebridge as a man called Arthur Adamson.  In her grief and frustration she kicks the headstone, and knocks it aside yelling "fake fake!"

Blanche is now enthused to find "the" Arthur Adamson, many in the phonebook and they need to narrow it down.  She's annoyed, however, because George needs to actually work for a day in his cab, otherwise he'll get fired.  He tells her to wait and they'll get to it on his day off.  She's not buying it and once he's gone, she starts her journey with the torn pages from the phone book searching for Arthur Adamson.  After many stops and obvious dead ends, Blanche comes across Arthur Adamson Jeweler.  She meets his assistant and succeeds in wheedling out of her Adamson's address as the harbinger of good news. 
Blanche stops at one of the hotels where George hangs in a cab line and leaves a message with the doorman she's found Adamson and to let George know she's going to his place to give him the good news. 
She finds the Adamson place (looking much like some location shot in Pacific Heights, I've not been able to identify it).  As an aside, Hitch reported told the location assistant that he found the coldest corner in San Francisco.  She arrives just as Adamson and Fran are about to pick up their latest ransom for Bishop Wood.  She rings the bell, Fran sees her and starts to panic.  They wait her out and it appears she's gone.  Gone until they open the garage door and find Blanche and her car parked right in front.  She's thrilled to see him and tells him she has good news.  They're having none of it and wanting to get out of there to retrieve the ransom.  Unfortunately to them, the Rainbird fortune is a much better deal. 

Bishop Wood, groggy is in the back seat of Adamson's car and Fran is desperately trying to hide the Bishop from view and the car door opens and all is revealed.  Quickly, Adamson closes the garage door and Blanche realizes she's trapped and in dangershe had not bargained for.  She tries to fight him off and fails.  A quick and painful jab drugs Blanche and the pair shove her in the hidden room for the kidnap victims and go off to drop Bishop Wood and collect.
Meanwhile, George gets the message and shows up at the Adamson house and finding it dark and with Blanche's car parked in front.  He tries to get in the garage and finds a side window and makes his way in.  In the garage he finds Blanche's handbag, drops of blood and no sign of Blanche.  He makes his way into the house and hears the garage open.  In hiding he discovers that the pair has locked Blanche up and that she's apparently drugged.  They enter the house with their loot and George sneaks into the room.  Blanche indicates to him she's fully awake and he hides in a  dark corner of the garage, lying in wait.  Adamson and Fran try to rouse Blanche who fakes them out, yells for George and runs out of the room.  George quickly slams an locks the door. 
They both walk upstairs to call the police and muse about the reward for the kidnappers and how much more lucrative it would be if they could find the diamonds.  Suddenly, Blanche goes into a trance-like state and makes her way up dreamily the stairs.  In a moment she points to the chandelier and the diamonds hidden there.  George declares that she's done it, she's really psychic.  He heads happily to the phone to call the cops and Blanche, self-satisfied sits down on the stairs and with a wink and smile.  Hitchcock's last blonde a mystery, was she really a clairvoyant?  We'll never know.

  

Family Plot is Alfred Hitchcock's swansong, his final film in a long list of great and near great films.  Family Plot is a film that seems to get tossed off with barely a nod, that it was Hitch, but not particularly good or creative Hitch.  The last ditch effort of an old man.  I really beg to differ on the film getting a slight.  Hitch may have slowed down a lot and was an elder statesman when he made this film, but the film deserves more, a whole lot more, respect.  It's a good deal of fun to watch; has a crackling good script (by Ernest Lehman) and performances by the four leads are all solid.  The supporting cast is also all solid as a rock.  The film is also filled with Hitchcockian touches we all love.  The only thing about this movie, to me, that has not aged well would be the process shots.  It is well known, that Hitch favored work in the studio, so this is a norm rather than an exception.  The rear projection/blue screen does not fare well and if that is my only real complaint, then that's not bad at all.
  
In his review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby began "Not since "To Catch a Thief" and "The Trouble With Harry" has Alfred Hitchcock been in such benign good humor as he is in "Family Plot," the old master's 56th feature since he began directing films in 1922."  That's a good start and a surprise for me to read.  While I did not see the film in the theater during the original release, its reputation has always been this was a pretty sad end to an illustrious career.  Reading Canby's review delights me and proves wrong in my thinking that everyone greeted the film as a flop.  Likewise, Roger Ebert reviewed the film positively and ended his review with this:
  
"And it's a delight for two contradictory reasons: because it's pure Hitchcock, with its meticulous construction and attention to detail, and because it's something new for Hitchcock -- a macabre comedy, essentially. He doesn't go for shock here, or for violent effects, but for the gradual tightening of a narrative noose.
  
Everything's laid out for us and made clear, we understand the situation we can see where events are leading... and then, in the last 30 minutes, he springs one concealed trap after another, allowing his story to fold in upon itself, to twist and turn, and scare and amuse us with its clockwork irony."

So, what about the film today?  To me it still holds up very well.  Barbara Harris really walks away with the picture as the final "Hitchcock Blonde" - a frosted blonde in this case.  Her Madame Blanche is funny, gusty, earthy and quietly sexy.  She steals the picture.  Bruce Dern is at his most likeable as George Lumley, sometime actor, cab driver and amateur private dick.  Probably the nicest guy role Dern ever had.  Karen Black is really quite funny as Fran and William Devane is urbane and a little scary as Arthur Anderson/Eddie Shoebridge.  Devane said Hitchcock's guidance on what he wanted was "William Powell."  Hitch may have been happy, I do not see much Powell in Devane, he's more like a scary and edgy Clark Gable.  He is very good at being sepentine, he's quite creepy in a roguish way.
  
I've hardly done the plot justice with my recap.  All I can say is go watch this film, it's as enjoyable as To Catch a Thief in many ways.  It's lighthearted and clearly Hitch enjoyed making it and you won't feel it to be time wasted.  It's not Notorious or North by Northwest nor is it the least bit glamorous, and I'm not bothered by that in the least.  It's still Hitch and a pretty darn good film. 

In 1976 it held its own up against All the President's Men, Marathon Man, Network, Carrie and Rocky.  In the box office totals it finished 9th for the year.  Hitchcock had nothing to be ashamed of and this film deserves a nicer reputation than history has given it. 
Not originally intended to be Hitch's final film, poignantly it is.  While Hitch was deeply saddened by not having the stamina to continue, one hopes he looked kindly and fondly on what was his final film.  It is filled with good humor, a good mystery and enough twists and turns to satisfy any armchair sleuth.  Ultimately it ends with a wink and smile.  At the end in my recent viewing, I also smiled.
She finds the Adamson place looking much like some location shot in Pacific Heights, I’ve not been able to identify it.  Hitch reported told the location assistant that he found the coldest corner in San Francisco.  She arrives just as Adamson and Fran are about to pick up their latest ransom for Bishop Wood.  She rings the bell, Fran sees her and starts to panic.  They wait her out and it appears she’s gone.  Gone until they open the garage door and find Blanche and her car parked right in front.  She’s thrilled to see him and tells him she has good news.  Bishop Wood, groggy is in the back seat of Adamson’s car and Fran is desperately trying to hide the Bishop from view and the car door opens and all is revealed.  Quickly, Adamson closes the garage door and Blanche realizes she’s trapped and in danger and tries to fight him off.  A quick and painful jab drugs Blanche and the pair shove her in the hidden room for the kidnap victims and go off to drop Bishop Wood.

Hitch providing directorial nuance filming the opening sequence
 "Too much pain, too much sorrowwwwwwwwww"

Meanwhile, George gets the message and shows up at the Adamson house and finding it dark and with Blanche’s car parked in front.  He tries to get in the garage and finds a side window and makes his way in.  In the garage he finds Blanche’s handbag, drops of blood and no sign of Blanche.  He makes his way into the house and hears the garage open.  In hiding he discovers that the pair has locked Blanche up and that she’s apparently drugged.  They enter the house with their loot and George sneaks into the room.  She indicates to him she’s fully awake and he hides in the corner of the garage.  Adamson and Fran try to rouse Blanche who fakes them out, runs out of the room and George quickly locks the door. 
For the Love of Film is a fundraising blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod. I am honored to be a participant for such a worthy and noble cause. If you like what you've been reading, or not, please consider making a donation to the NFPF to help reach the goal of making what remains of the 1923 film The White Shadow available for online streaming. Any amount is a welcome and is tax deductable. Be it $5, $10, $20 or $100, no amount it too small to help reach the goal of $15,000. Donate Here or hit the pic of Hitch or the donatation button to the right. By all means, just donate!
He goes upstairs to call the police and they muse about the reward for the kidnappers and how much more it would be if they could find the diamonds.  Blanche goes into a trance-like state and makes her way up the stairs.  In a moment she points to the chandelier and the diamonds hidden there.  George declares that she’s done it, she’s really psychic.  He head to the phone to call the cops and Blanche, self-satisfied sits down on the stairs and with a wink and smile.  Hitchcock’s last blonde a mystery, was she really a clairvoyant?  We’ll never know.
Family Plot is Alfred Hitchcock’s swansong, his final film in a long list of great and near great films.  Family Plot is a film that seems to get tossed off with barely a nod, that it was Hitch, but not particularly good or creative Hitch.  The last ditch effort of an old man.  I really beg to differ on the film getting a slight.  Hitch may have slowed down a lot and was an elder statesman when he made this film, but the film deserves more a whole lot more respect.  It’s a whole lot of fun to watch; has a crackling good script (by Ernest Lehman) and performances by the four leads are all solid.  The supporting cast is also all solid as a rock.  The film is also filled with Hitchcockian touches we all love.  The only thing about this movie, to me, that has not aged well would be the process shots.  It is well known, that Hitch favored work in the studio, so this is a norm rather than an exception.  The rear projection does not fare well and if that is my only real complaint, then that’s not bad at all.








In his review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby began “Not since "To Catch a Thief" and "The Trouble With Harry" has Alfred Hitchcock been in such benign good humor as he is in "Family Plot," the old master's 56th feature since he began directing films in 1922.”  That’s a good start and a surprise for me to read.  While I did not see the film in the theater during the original release, its reputation has always been this was a pretty sad end to an illustrious career.  Reading Canby’s review (link: http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C0DE7DF153BE334BC4852DFB266838D669EDE) delights me and proves wrong in my thinking that everyone greeted the film as a flop.  Likewise, Roger Ebert reviewed (link: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19760412/REVIEWS/604120301/1023)  the film positively and ended his review with this:





“And it's a delight for two contradictory reasons: because it's pure Hitchcock, with its meticulous construction and attention to detail, and because it's something new for Hitchcock -- a macabre comedy, essentially. He doesn't go for shock here, or for violent effects, but for the gradual tightening of a narrative noose.





Everything's laid out for us and made clear, we understand the situation we can see where events are leading... and then, in the last 30 minutes, he springs one concealed trap after another, allowing his story to fold in upon itself, to twist and turn, and scare and amuse us with its clockwork irony.”





So, what about the film today?  To me it holds up very well.  Barbara Harris really walks away with the picture as the final “Hitchcock Blonde” – a frosted blonde in this case.  Her Madame Blanche is funny, gusty and quietly sexy.  She steals the picture.  Bruce Dern is at his most likeable as George Lumley, sometime actor, cab driver and amateur private dick.  Probably the nicest guy role Dern ever had.  Karen Black is really quite funny as Fran and Willian Devane is urbane and a little scary as Arthur Anderson ne Eddie Shoebridge.  Devane said Hitchcock’s guidance on what he wanted was “William Powell.”  Hitch may have been happy, I do not see much Powell in Devane, he’s more like a scary Clark Gable.





I’ve hardly done the plot justice with my recap.  All I can say is go watch this film, it’s as enjoyable as To Catch a Thief in many ways.  It’s lighthearted and clearly Hitch enjoyed making it and you won’t feel it to be time wasted.  It’s not Notorious or North by Northwest and I’m not bothered by that in the least.  It’s still Hitch and a pretty darn good film.  In 1976 it held its own up against All the President’s Men, Marathon Man, Network, Carrie and Rocky.  In the box office totals it finished 9th for the year.  Hitchcock had nothing to be ashamed of and this film deserves a nicer reputation than history has given it. 

For the Love of Film is a fundraising blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdyon Films and This Island Rod. I am honored to be a participant for such a worthy and noble cause. If you like what you've been reading, or not, please consider making a donation to the NFPF to help reach the goal of making what remains of the 1923 film The White Shadow available for online streaming. Any amount is a welcome and is tax deductable. Be it $5, $10, $20 or $100, no amount it too small to help reach the goal of $15,000. Donate Here or hit the pic of Hitch or the donatation button to the right. By all means, just donate!