Friday, July 27, 2018

Dark Shadows in Berlin

 This is my entry in the "non-English" Language Blogathon hosted by Thoughts All Sorts

One of the classics of pre-war, pre-Hitler German cinema, according to historical references the movie almost didn't get made.  When Fritz Lang, the director, announced his plans to film a movie called Mörder unter uns, the head of his studio, Staaken, denied him the space to use to film it.  Still prior to Hitler's rise to power, but the Nazi party had its adherents even then, one of whom was the studio head.  He and the Nazi Party both suspected it was going to be a veiled condemnation of the Nazis, and as such Lang was denied the use of the studio.  Only after Lang assured them that it was not going to a political movie was he allowed to film it at Staaken.

Lang's first film to incorporate sound, also almost didn't get made as is because Lang had a reluctance to film the movie with sound.  But certain parts of it prove that once he got into the use of sound, he had an ability to use it to maximum effect.

M (1931):

The movie opens with a scene of children playing and chanting a rather dark rhyme about some secretive shadowy stalker.  One of the mothers listening tells the children to stop chanting that dark rhyme but kids being kids they start it back up anyway.  The woman in question is waiting for her daughter to return home from school.  There have been several incidents of children disappearing and she is concerned, but not too worried.  At least until lunch time has come and gone and no daughter shows.

This is because, by now, her daughter has become another victim to this scourge of the city.  Although no one knows he is anything other than just an average citizen, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) roams the streets following little children.  He spies his prey and poses as a friendly stranger, buying balloons and candy for his victim, later killing them. 

He has sent letters to the police and newspaper, taunting them, something like Jack the Ripper, and the police, under intense pressure from the public, increase their focus on finding this scoundrel.  They put pressure on the criminal world, and disrupt regular criminal activities in ther zeal to discover the identity of the murderer.

As a result, the criminal world puts their own network to work in trying to find out who he is.  They use beggars and street people to keep a watch out for suspicious activity.  One of the street people, a blind man who sells ballonns, remembers a man who whistled Edvard Grieg's "In the hall of the Mountain King".  (And after watching this movie you may become a little apprehensive every time you hear the tune outside of the movie).

Eventually the criminals are the ones who capture Beckert and bring him to an abandoned warehouse where he is forced to stand trial before what is essentially the entire criminal contingent of the  city.  Talk about a jury of your own peers!  Beckert has the benefit of a man who is supposed to be his defense attorney.  During the trial he breaks down with an impassioned plea, stating basically that he is compelled by his own mind to do these terrible things (basically trying  to use an insanity defense), but the jury is unrelenting, and pronounces him guilty, giving him a death sentence.

Then his defense attorney takes over, berating the criminal society and telling them they have no right to declare judgement on the man.  What happens next is very interesting. 

The movie was Lorre's first starring role, but the after effect was he was typecast as a criminal and undesirable in many of his subsequent roles.  But it did show his incredible acting ability.

Well folks, time to go home. Drive safely. 


Friday, July 20, 2018

Superhero Thoughts

Chris Cummins who runs Movie FanFare had this on his blog site.  I thought it was worth a shot.

• What was the first superhero movie you ever saw in a theater? What were your thoughts?

It depends on what qualifies as a superhero.  I saw the original 1978 Superman, but if you can count Luke Skywalker as a "superhero" I saw Star Wars before that.

• What is your favorite comic book movie and why?

I have a great love for the outcast characters, so X-Men movies are my favorites.

• A lot of critics talk about “superhero fatigue” these days, do you personally think that there are too many films inspired by comic books? If so, why?

Therre can never be enough superhero movies.  'Nuff said.

• In your opinion, what is the worst superhero or comic book movie you have seen? What makes it so terrible?

Avengers Infinity Wars, but only because it left the story unresolved at the end.   That could change when the next one comes out.   Outside of that, I find the Eric Bana/Ang Lee "Hulk" to be very boring.  And "Steel".  Shaq can't act.

• Name some of your favorite underrated comic book films,

 Flash Gordon (1980) and Howard the Duck.  I like them both despite what the reviewers said.

• How many superhero/comic book films do you have in your personal collection? Which ones?

A buttload.  Every Marvel Cinematic Universe one, because I love Marvel Comics, most of the DC ones, and several others.

• Why do you think that these types of movies have struck such a chord with the viewing public?

Everybody loves it when the good guys win.

• What comic properties would you like to see on the big screen?


• How do you feel about reboots of superhero films?

There's nothing wrong with reboots, if the actors give a new interpretation that works.  The newest Spiderman movies are pretty good.  And Edward Norton's reboot of Hulk was loads better than the Eric bana one.

• Who is your favorite cinematic Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man?

Superman: Christopher Reeve
Batman: Michael Keaton
Spiderman: Tobey MacGuire

A Claus for Joy

This is my entry in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

"Can't sing.  Can't act.  Slightly balding.  Can dance a little."

Variations of that description have been passed down over the years from Fred Astaire's first screen test.  It is a legend, but one source I encountered says it is probably true.  No one knows who the person was who noted that description.  Probably someone who was out of a job not long afterwards, as Astaire became a popular and prolific star of the cinema.  I personally can't vouch for his singing ability, since I am not the best judge of singing, but he definitely could dance.  As far as acting, one only has to watch The Towering InfernoOn the Beach or Ghost Story to realize that it is a bad evaluation.  He was even nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Towering Inferno (but lost to Robert DeNiro in The Godfather Part II)

The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (1979): 

The scene is New York City.  It's Christmas Eve.  We look in on the lives of three men who have their daily lives in turmoil due to one circumstance or another.  The opening credits feature a theme song, sung by Astaire (who says he can't sing?)

Gil Travis (Bert Convy) is a political dynamo who has everything going for him in his career.  But he is neglecting his family in pursuit of his career.  While on a Christmas eve trip, the limo driver (Astaire) gives him a piece of advice from his own childhood.  Dress up like Santa Claus and show up at the house.  Gil's son is sure to be impressed, as the limo driver was when his father did the same thing years ago.  Gil takes the driver's advice and goes to a costume rental shop, run by an eccentric old man (Astaire).

Sam Summerville (John Byner) is a homeless guy who is on the run from some shady characters because he found and has kept a gun that was used in a robbery. He wants to leave the city and head west, but he has no money.  A friend, Eddie (Ray Vitte), suggests he could get some money by posing as Santa Claus.  Sam goes to the same shop being run by Astaire, and then proceed to try to rob a rich house.

Bob Willis (Gary Burghoff) is a shy math teacher who is desperately in love with his neighbor, Polly (Tara Buckman).  He is shy but he plans on trying to propose to her.  A jeweler (Astaire) suggests that he dress up like a pirate or something to overcome his shyness when he proposes, and they come to the conclusion that the best costume for the time of year would be as Santa Claus.  So he ends up at the same costume shop.

Astaire has several other roles during the course of the movie (9 in all), but no one is even aware that the characters all look alike.  (Of course they don't.)

The best scenes in the movie are with Byner as Sam who has attempted to rob a family of their money.  The family consists of two former vaudeville performers, Dickie and Dora (Harold Gould and Nanette Fabray), who are spending Christmas with their grandchildren (Patrick Peterson and Debbie Lytton). The grandchildren are the most self-obsessed obnoxious kids ever portrayed in film.  One wonders why they aren't with the parents.  But the parents went to Bermuda on vacation.  Why didn't they take the kids?  That probably explains why the kids are the way they are; their parents aren't very mature either...  The grandparents take a liking to Sam and try to help him out.  But the kids are intent on trying to get Sam arrested.

The movie ends like any TV movie of this type ends, of course, with everybody happy and their lives turned around for the good.  But there is one surprise left for the end.  Guess who Fred Astaire really is.  Come on, guess... (If I have to tell you, you haven't watched enough of these kinds of movies...)


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Prank Falls and Pitfalls

This is my entry in the Natalie Wood Blogathon hosted by Musings of a Classic Film Addict

Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid included Hanna Barbera's Wacky Races, a fun one which involved a cross-country car race, and a spinoff called The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, and another spinoff called dastardly and Muttley. I used to love all of them.  There were several significant characters in the original Wacky Races, one of which was the aforementioned Penelope, but also a gentlemanly hero named Peter Perfect, and especially memorably, a black-caped top-hatted mustachioed villain name Dick Dastardy and his incompetent helper a mutt called Muttley.

This being Hanna-Barbera cartoon about a car race, there were of course additional racers, most of which were caricatures of kid-appealing favorites, like the Slag Brothers (A Flintstones-like caveman duo),  a pair of hillbillies, and a haunted house on wheels driven by a Frankenstein and a Dracula/mad scientist set of characters.

But the ones I remembered most was the goody Peter, the evil Dastardly and his dog, and Penelope.  But I haven't seen them since I was a kid.  So a few weeks ago I bought a box-set of Warner Brothers comedies and one of them was The Great Race,  a Blake Edwards movie.  I had never seen it before but I gamely put it in my player and after about 15 minutes came to the conclusion that Edwards had made a live-action movie of the cartoon series.  Which would have been OK, but I thought Edwards was more original than that.

It turns out I was mistaken.  This movie was the original real-deal.  Wacky Races was based in turn on the original Edwards movie.  Amazingly enough, although I recall watching the cartoons quite often, there were only 17 each of the Wacky Races and its subsequent spinoffs.  Needless to say it must have had a profound effect on my memory.

The Great Race (1965):

In the early part of the 20th century there are two competing daredevils.  One is The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), a charismatic knight in white, who performs stunts like escaping from a straight jacket while tied to a balloon.

On his opposite side is a jealous fellow daredevil, Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon, who not only performs his own stunts, but does everything he can to try to sabotage Leslie's stunts.  Usually backfiring to Fate's dismay and ultimate harm.  (These things end up looking like Wiley E. Coyote's attempts to use intricate devices to capture the Roadrunner.  Fate must have been one of Acme's founders, since his devices usually end up with the same results.)

Leslie proposes to a car company a plan to promote their company.  Cars are a fairly newfangled invention, and the company could use the publicity.  What Leslie proposes is a race from New York to Paris.  (This movie was partially based on a real event  that happened in 1908.)  Fate, upon hearing about the event, becomes determined to enter the race himself, and hopefully finally beat The Great Leslie at his own game.  To accomplish this, he devices his own special car, a monstrosity that has to be seen to be believed.

Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood), a suffragette striving to be a female reporter in a world that still considers women to be inferior to men, makes a proposal to the editor of a newspaper, Mr. Goodbody (Arthur O'Connell), to enter the race herself, as a way to report on the race and thus get a job and a success in the fight for the rights of women.  Goodbody reluctantly gives her permission.

On the day of the race, Fate and his right hand man, Max (Peter Falk) sabotage the cars in the race.  The result is that only Fate, Leslie and Maggie are left in the race.  And Maggie, who has chosen a Stanley Steamer, not the best choice for a cross-country road race, breaks down in the middle of the first leg of the race (due to the unreliability of the car, not due to Fate's sabotage...)

Maggie uses her wiles to tag along with Leslie, at least until the first stop in the trip.  But at every point along the journey she manages to find a way to continue on, using blackmail and her sexual appeal to convince Leslie to keep her on.

In Boracho, a western town along the way, there is a female cabaret singer, Lily Olay (Dorothy Provine), who flirts with Leslie, infuriating her boyfriend, Texas Jack (Larry Storch), who then instigates a bar brawl to end all bar brawls.  Fate uses the distraction to sabotage the gasoline Leslie needs to continue, but of course, since Leslie is the hero and Fate is the hapless villain, Leslie manages to find a way to stay in the race.

The two cars end up in Alaska where an iceberg makes them allies for a brief period, but once they reach the Russian coast the race is back on.

The racers end up in the fictional country of Ruritania (oops, I mean Carpania) where the prince, Rudolph (oops, I mean Frederick) turns out to be the spitting image of Professor Fate.  Which leads to a long parody of The Prisoner of Zenda (so, OK, those weren't really innocent mistakes).

Ultimately, after a pie fight to end all pie fights, the race continues.  Who wins?  I'm not telling.

This movie is pretty funny for the first half, but I personally think it breaks down during the parody of Zenda.  But it really shines with Lemmon as the  Dick Dastardly/Snidely Whiplash-like character, and although I think Wood overacts quite often, she is a treat to watch in this.  The only real downside, in my opinion, are the scenes back home where, while the race is in progress, Goodbody's wife (played by Vivian Vance, Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy) leads a charge for women's rights, to the dismay of her husband.

Well, folks, that's it from the back seat of this old Plymouth. I'm off to race a pair of turtles to the house.  Personally I would bet on the turtles...



Sunday, July 15, 2018

Announcing the Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon

Angelman (Chris), who runs the website Angelman's Place and I have teamed up to present a blogathon that reaches into new territories.  New territories for the average blogathon, at any rate.  And the pairing of Angelman and I is a match made perfect for the theme; one of us a gay man and one of us is a straight man (albeit one with some rather liberal attitudes towards sex in general).

The inspiration for this idea came after having done a few movies that had cross-dressing characters (Victor/Victoria, La Cage aux Folles, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert).  I wanted to do a new blogathon that specifically centered on the various movies which featured men posing as women and women posing as men.

The first thing that came to mind was that my fellow blogger friend, Chris, might be interested in it.  Not only was he interested, he even agreed to come on board as a co-host for the blogathon.  And we hope that you find the subject matter intriguing enough to join us.  The theme is rather narrow, I admit, but there are many possibilities and the rules allow for several interpretations for entries.

Hollywood has had a relationship with gender identity that has gone from hostility in the days of the Hays Code to one that is more permissive since the 60's. We have only a few rules to entering this blogathon and they are as follows:

• Review any film or television show featuring characters who bend the traditional gender roles to memorable dramatic or comedic effect. 
• No more than three duplicates of any one title will be allowed, however, so reserve your topic ASAP.
• Previously published material is OK if it fits well with our theme, but original material is preferred.
• Please request your title/topic in the comments below, and grab a blogathon banner to post on your site and help us promote the event.
• A full list of participants will be posted on a separate page and updated regularly once the blogathon begins. Post your links there.
• Please keep all posts and comments polite and respectful.

The Roster so far: (This list is in film title order for your convenience.  Remember, if a film has three listings, choose a different topic.  Thanks.

Albert Nobbs (2011)- MovieRob
The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)- Great Old Movies
The Birdcage (1996)-  The Midnite Drive-In
The Birdcage (1996)Realweegiemidget Reviews
First a Girl (1935) - Caftan Woman
I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918)- Crítica Retrô
I Was a Male War Bride (1949)- Anybody Got a Match
Just One of the Guys (1985)- Angelman's Place
Mulan (1998)- The Wonderful World of Cinema
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)- The Midnite Drive-In 
Some Like It Hot (1959)- Top 10 Film Lists
Tales of the City (1993 miniseries)-  Angelman's Place
Tootsie (1982)-  In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
Tootsie (1982)-  Rick's Real/Reel Life
Twelfth Night (1970)- Wide Screen World
Victor/Victoria (1982)- MovieRob
Yentl (1983)- MovieRob 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Let it Blow! Let it Blow! Let it Blow!

This is my entry in the Winter in July Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini.

Christmas Eve in Los Angeles.  No snow.  Probably not even below 60.  (Although Sgt. Powell [Reginald VelJohnson] does sport a heavy jacket..)  Without the obligatory cold weather, the movie could easily have been mistaken as taking place in the summer (it was a summer release, after all, when it hit the theaters).  That plus Bruce Willis spends most of the movie in a tank top, even when he goes up on the roof, and there are no visible signs he is cold.

Die Hard has an interesting background with lots of tidbits that the average person does not know.  For one thing, it was meant to be a sequel.  The original novel, The Detective, had been filmed in 1968 with Frank Sinatra.  A sequel to the novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, was inspired by the movie The Towering Inferno, and believe it or not, Sinatra was given first shot at playing McClane, but since he was 73 at the time, he turned it down.  (Thank God!)

Bruce Willis only came on board after several other actors, including Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Charles Bronson and Nick Nolte had already turned it down.  Even Clint Eastwood, the man who actually owned the rights to the movie, was considered, but by the time the movie was actually in production, Eastwood was pushing 60 and also a bit old for the part.  Willis got the job, his first starring role in an action movie (and only his third movie overall, but the first two were comedies), only because there was a hiatus from his Moonlighting TV show (due to Cybill Shepard's pregnancy).

Also this was Alan Rickman's first big role in a movie.  (He had a career in TV in the UK prior to this, but it was the first role he had in a major motion picture).  Other familiar faces in the movie are the aforementioned Reginald VelJohnson who went on the greater fame as Steve Urkel's foil on Family Matters; Paul Gleason, who has been the bad guy several movies; William Atherton who made a career out of playing obnoxious jerks; Bonnie Bedelia, whom I first noticed in the TV version of Stephen King's Salem's Lot.  You might also recognize a few others:  Al Leong has appeared  as Asian bad guys in many movies;  Robert Davi, who was the drug kingpin in the James Bond film,   License to Kill; and maybe even Grand L. Bush (among other roles he was one of the four Sorels in the film Streets of Fire).

If you're looking for a movie to make you feel cool and comfy by the fireplace, this not one to get.  But if you want action and a few bon mots that imply a Christmas feel, it is a good choice.

Die Hard (1988):

The plane lands in Los Angeles, where New York cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis) has come to see his wife and kids.  Holly (Bonnie Bedlia) and John are deeply entrenched in their own respective careers.  Holly has taken the kids and moved out to California because she has a good job as an executive for the Nakatomi Corporation.  (The two aren't divorced, but it is implied that they are separated.  John is as deeply devoted to his career as a New York police detective as Holly is to her career as an executive.)

Waiting for John at the airport is a limo driver, Argyle (De'voreaux White), who has been hired by Holly's boss to bring John to the office where a Christmas party is in progress.   Meanwhile, a mysterious truck is making its way across the city, and of course, it's destination is the same building.  Upon arriving at the building John discovers that Holly is using her maiden name, which doesn't set well with him and causes immediate friction upon their meeting.

The mysterious truck arrives and disembarking are a crew of well dressed men, not exactly terrorists, although their actions are easily construed as such.  The cast of bad men is led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and a cast of 11 associates, mostly Germans, albeit with a token couple of non-Germans, including Al Leong and Clarence Gilyard, Jr (who often showed up on TV's Matlock).  While John is relaxing in the executive washroom, the hoodlums take the Christmas party hostage.

Insisting that they are not terrorists, but just a bunch of high-class robbers, Gruber demands that Holly's boss, Mr. Takagi (James Shigeta) give him the codes to open the vaults, but Takagi claims he doesn't know them.  So Gruber shoots him and they have to go to plan B; break into the security systems.  While the computer expert of the clan works on trying to bypass he security system, Gruber and clan have to focus on the fly in the ointment, John, who has killed one of the terrorists and now has a machine gun (Ho! Ho! Ho!) and a radio.

John tries various tactics to try to get the authorities attention.  He sets off the fire alarm, but one of Gruber's associates manages to convince the fire department it was a false alarm.  John also tries to get the police to show up, but as is typical of these kinds of movies, the police think its just a crank call.  But they do manage to send one lone patrolman, Officer Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) to the scene.  Powell is also convinced that the emergency is a crank and starts to drive away, but John sends the body of another terrorist he has killed crashing down on top of the patrolman's car.

Finally, the authorities start to arrive, but the men in charge are just as ignorant and self-obsessed as any movie authorities usually are.  Deputy Chief Dwayne Robinson (Paul Gleason) even reprimands Powell for falling for a ruse because he thinks John is just another one of the terrorists.  And to top things off, the power-hungry FBI show up, and if you watch these kinds of movies, you know exactly what you get when the FBI shows up.

After several failed attempts by the less than competent bigwigs, including a failed attempt to rescue the hostages (which were going to be blown up anyway as part of the escape plan of the terrorists, it is up to John to save the day (and maybe his marriage).

That's it from the back seat this time, folks.  Personally I'm going to take John McClane's advice and stay out of tall buildings.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review: The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Films--Their Stars, Makers, Characters,and Critics

Coming a little later this month I will be co-hosting a blogathon, the Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon.  Although I am an avowed heterosexual male, I am nevertheless interested in movies of any kind or stripe.  I enjoyed the hell out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I also liked To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, all of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Homosexuals (men more than women, admittedly) had been a source of ridicule in film for most of the 20th century.  That is when Hollywood even deigned to admit that a character was a homosexual.  It must be noted that the Hays Code insured that for the most part that people of "aberrational" sexual attraction were basically verboten in film during the heyday of the Hays Code.  And even when the movies included characters that were gay, there were often cast as the villain or were just the source of comic relief.

It is refreshing therefore to have a look at the history of movies in which gay men and women were at least nominally sympathetic characters.  These are not movies that ridicule the gay community.

The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Films--Their Stars, Makers, Characters,and Critics by Boze Hadleigh

From the beginning, Hadleigh covers a range of movies that dates back to the early 30's.  The introduction includes a preface by a guy who was one of the actors in a silent epic, Salome',  who claims that that movie featured an entire cast that was either gay or lesbian.  From there the author segues into the first feature, a pre-Nazi era German movie called Madcen in Uniform.

Down through the years, Hadleigh touches upon such classics as Suddenly, Last Summer, The Killing of Sister George, and The Children's Hour as well more modern movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, The Birdcage, The Hunger, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

He of course delves into movies that confront Aids.  A movie I have garnered an interest in seeing, Longtime Companion, covers an entire decade of the lives of several gay couples as they deal with this devastating disease.  Some more obscure movies, at least to me, are covered too with a loving but not altogether sycophantic eye (as should be if you are going to be classified as a critic).

There are a couple of issues that I had with the book, however.  For one, Hadleigh quotes other contemporary reviews of movies, and one person he quotes often, early on, is John Simon.  I always considered John Simon to be an obnoxious twit, and that was before I even saw any of his mostly homophobic reviews quoted herein.  But then, maybe that was part of the point for Hadleigh to quote him.

The other issue was for Hadleigh to let his political viewpoint enter into the fray on occasion.  OK, so Republicans don't particularly like the gay culture, we get that, but I hate being beat over the head with it, especially in a piece that is not supposed to be about politics (unless the movie is about the politics of the issue, that is.)

The book was first published in the early 90's and my copy was a second edition, published in 2001.  As such, it misses out on 17 years more of movies, and a couple of comments are outdated.  One especially apparent was Hadleigh's opining that a movie made on the story of Harvey Milk, the openly gay politician in San Francisco who was murdered back in the 70's would probably never get made.  (It did, and Sean Penn even won the oscar for his portrayal of the politician).

I have already reviewed several of the movies contained in these pages, and now I have several more that are on the list to be reviewed in the future.  Notably, for the aforementioned blogathon, I will be covering The Birdcage and Kiss of the Spider Woman.  I have to admit Fellini's Satyricon probably won't end up here, however.  Even without watching the movies, however, this is still an interesting read.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Al and Norm: A Match Made in Hell

This is my entry in the Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon hosted by Maddylovesherclassicmovies.

My parents were dating in 1960.  One of the memories both of them told me was a date to go see Psycho. My mother was especially vocal about it.  Apparently at one particularly suspenseful point in the movie my father reached behind her and poked her in the back.  She claims she jumped about a mile.

Alfred Hitchcock pulled a stunt worthy of William Castle in terms of promotion of this movie.  He hired security guards for the theater and enforced a rule that "no one would be allowed to enter the theater after the movie had started".  This was something new in a day when people could enter the theater at any time during the show (and were allowed to stay through the next showing, although who would actually want to jump in in the middle of a movie is a mystery to me.)

The movie notably had one of the most interesting trailers.  Instead of showing scenes from the movie you got Hitchcock himself in his inimitable fashion familiar from his TV series giving a "travelogue" of sorts, touring the house and giving cryptic comments on the story behind the scenes.  Only at the end when he pulls back the shower curtain to reveal the scene of the iconic murder do you get a brief snippet of Janet Leigh (actually Vera Miles in a blonde wig) screaming.

Also, from the movie Hitchcock, he apparently sent out masses of subordinates to buy up all available copies of the Robert Bloch novel, ostensibly to keep people from reading the book and knowing how it comes out before ever reaching the theater.   The whole background to this classic movie is intriguing.  The movie Hitchcock is an insight into the struggles and travails that Hitchcock had in bringing this movie to the screen.

And then there's the movie itself.  (Be sure you watch the original.  The remake, although technically supposedly the same movie with new actors and actresses; Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore; can't even hold a candle to the original).

Hitchcock (2012):

The film is based on Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.  It tells the story, beginning just shortly after the release of North by Northwest, of Alfred Hitchcock's (Anthony Hopkins) plans to make his next movie.

Instead of staying in his normal milieu, or attempting to branch into other more mainstream fields, Hitchcock wants to film the Robert Bloch novel Psycho.  He immediately runs up against roadblocks.  For one thing, the Shurlock Office, the censor board, threatens that the book is too racy to get a rating if filmed.  (A lack of a rating means that the movie would not be marketable to most of the movie houses in America.)  The head of the office, Geoffrey Shurlock (Kurtwood Smith) adamantly asserts that there is no way the movie is going to get past him.

Also the studios all insist that they will fight him tooth and nail on his choice of material.  Again, without a studio to put it's name at the head of the marquee, the film is not going to get the distribution that would make it into the theaters.  They even refuse to finance it, trying to blackmail him into choosing different material.

Hitchcock, along with his supportive wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), decides to finance the movie himself, with the agreement that the studio will distribute it with a portion of the profits in the mix.  He forgoes his director's fee and agrees to use people from his TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in order to cut down costs.  Thus the production of begins.

One of the first problems is finding the right person to play the female star of the movie.  Several iconic stars are considered, but Hitchcock chooses Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johannson).  He does this mainly because he has a thing for blondes, which is covered during the movie.  It seems that Hitch is somewhat of a ladies' man and constantly flirts with his female leads.  Alma knows about his dalliances, but she sticks by him.

The casting continues as Hitchcock searches for the right person to play Norman Bates.  When Anthony Perkins (James D'Arcy) shows up, with a story about having some similar affinity with the character, Hitchcock knows he has his Norman.  Filming begins.

There's more to the story than just the filming however,  For one thing, Alma has been spending time with another writer, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), trying to whip his own screenplay into shape.  This is not sitting well with Hitchcock because he becomes convinced that Alma is having an affair with Whit.  And some of this comes out in his demeanor on the set.

Additionally, Hitchcock's imaginary muse is Ed Gein, the notorious murderer on whom Bloch based his character of Norman Bates.  Gein shows up to give Hitchcock inspiration (and to also spur his suspicions of Alma) and these sequences are enough to give the film a bit of suspense.  What will Hitch do to Alma when his suspicions are confirmed...?

The completed movie is screened to the studio executives, and its a disaster.  Hitchcock is convinced that the movie is going to be a failed swan song.  But Alma steps in and the two recut the movie, adding some music in places that didn't have any in the first place (there was no music during the shower scene originally, because Hitchcock didn't want it), as well as some other edits.  When the movie is finally released to the public, Hitchcock is finally blessed with the success of a classic film.

I think Anthony Hopkins pulled off an incredible performance here.  He got the voice down almost perfectly.  And he looks quite a bit like Hitch in make-up (unlike some characters in biopic movies I could mention).

And now its time to discuss the classic itself.

Psycho (1960):

The advantage of talking about a movie that is now 58 years old is I don't have to be circuitous about discussing it.  Most of you have either seen the movie, or at least know enough about it that nothing I mention will come as a surprise to you.  But Spoiler Alert! I will reveal some things you'd rather not know beforehand if you are completely clueless about the movie...

Opening scenes show Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) having just finished a secret tryst.  They discuss the possibility of marriage so they won't have to meet in secret, but Sam opines about the debt he is in, due to his father's debts that he left behind when he died.  Marion goes back to work instead.

While at work, a rather rich and rather irresponsible man (Frank Albertson) pays $40,000 in cash for a piece of land to her boss (Vaughn Taylor).   Uncomfortable with holding so much case in the office, he asks Marion to deposit it at the bank on her lunch hour.  Feigning sickness, Marion asks for the rest of the day off so she can go home and rest.

Of course, instead of going home to rest, she goes home and packs a few things and goes on the run.  With the money, of course.  It's obvious her plan is to hook up with Sam and give him the money to pay off his debts.  On the way her conscience starts to nag at her.  But she manages to keep it at bay.  At one point she pulls over on the side of the road to rest, but falls asleep.  Whereupon a cop shows up to investigate.  Marion is nervous and rouses the cops suspicions, but he lets her go, choosing to follow her instead.

Marion stops in the next town and trades in her car for another one, still acting a little suspicious.  The car dealer notices, and despite his suspicions ends up taking the trade.  Marion leaves and continues on her journey.  Once again exhaustion catches up to her and she stops at the Bates Motel to get a room.

Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) greets he and furnishes her with a room.  After telling her the nearest diner is several miles up the road, he invites her up to have dinner at his house.  But a while later Marion overhears Norman arguing with a woman, and Norman returns with a plate of food, telling Marion his mother is out of sorts and does not want a strange woman in the house.

During a conversation with Norman, Marion comes to the decision to return with the money and face the music.  She goes back to her room, not knowing that Norman is spying on her through a peephole in the office.  A short while later, while Marion is taking a shower, a figure in a dress bursts in and stabs her to death,  Norman finds the body, and blaming his mother, disposes of the body and all evidence that Marion had been there.

The last half of the movie involves some investigations into the disappearance of Marion, led by Sam and Marion's sister, Lila (Vera Miles).  Also looking for Marion is Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), a private investigator, apparently hired by either her boss or the guy she bilked out of his money (although  it is never really stated).

Arbogast ends up finally talking with Norman who is very evasive and refuses to let Arbogast talk with his mother.  But Arbogast thinks he is on to something, and waits until Norman is preoccupied and goes up to the house to confront the mother.  Bad mistake.  He is killed by the same shadowy figure that killed Marion.

Sam and Lila, who have been patiently waiting for the return of Arbogast suspect foul play, but are unable to entice the local sheriff to investigate.  For one thing, the sheriff tells them that Norman's mother died 10 years ago, so Arbogast's claim to have seen the mother in the window of the house is not possible.

Of course Lila and Sam are not deterred by the lack of help from  the sheriff and go off on their own to investigate.  While Sam distracts Norman, Lila goes up to the house to investigate, looking for the mother.  Whom she finds.  But Norman's mother is not talking.  And you know why.

Psycho is considered by many to be the first slasher film.  Despite the travails that Hitchcock had in getting the movie made (see the first entry in this post), it is probably his most famous film.  And it still manages to entrance people even today, without all the extra blood and gore that populate most of it's inheritors to the genre.  Hitchcock managed to make a movie that seems gory and bloody, even in black and white.  So much so that some even have claimed that color was used for the blood in the shower scene (it isn't, but it sure seems like it sometimes; the "blood" was supposedly chocolate syrup, so it wouldn't have shown up as red anyway...)

The movie got mixed reviews upon its release, but the public largely ignored the bad ones apparently, because it remains the all-time most profitable movie in the Hitchcock oeuvre.

Drive home safely, folks.  And if you feel the need to stop overnight at a motel, let me recommend a Holiday Inn or a Motel 6 instead of that low budget inn down that deserted highway...