Psychological thriller

Tense Start, Brilliant Finish

We’ve done Hitchcock here before (and here and here, and probably in other places I can’t remember off the top of my head).  He pops up with a certain regularity on the 1001 movies list, which is unsurprising.  In fact, the version of the book that I’m using has a still of Psycho on the cover.

Some of the films are extremely well known, and some aren’t.  In my opinion, the subject of today’s post should be much more famous than it is.

Strangers on a Train - Alfred Hitchcock.jpg

Strangers on a Train (1951) deserves to be a household name in motion pictures because of the way it both tangles and untangles the plot.  This is truly a tense film (and that’s not the first time we’ve used that word in the title of a post about a Hitchcock movie) which has the audiences dreading what might happen to the protagonist for most of it.

But the end is so spectacularly well done that it makes the suffering worthwhile.  It’s the best of the Hitchcock endings I’ve seen so far, and it brings the whole movie up as a result.

But it’s not the ending that makes this one a classic, but the setup.  The sheer perverse ideation of the crime in the film makes one admire Patricia Highsmith (of Ripley fame, who originally cooked it up) while, at the same time worrying about her mental state.  This one is really diabolical and worth the price of entry by itself.

A mild spoiler and a word about the murder victim: few times have I been so happy to see a non-antagonist character die in a film.  The little piece of slime who was killed is one of cinema’s truly unpleasant characters, extraordinarily well played by Laura Elliott.

Interesting notes here are that Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter Pat (who is alive as of this writing) played a very convincing role as the love interest’s younger daughter, and there was an Argentinian actor in this, too: Barry Norton.  Always interesting to see my countrymen in American films.

In conclusion, watch this one.  The suspense truly is nail-biting, but it all comes together really well in the end.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina whose own thriller is entitled Timeless.  You can check the book out here.

The Shadow of Rebecca

Secret Beyond the Door Film Poster

It’s not often that we encounter minor movies while watching the 1001 films you need to see before you die, but it does happen sometimes.  Today’s subject, Secret Beyond the Door, is a case in point.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an entertaining thriller that directors other than Fritz Lang would have killed to have in their oeuvre.  But for the man who filmed Metropolis, it’s a second-division effort.

Nevertheless, it’s worth looking at, if only because it pays homage to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, and to Hitchcock’s film of the novel, both of which are classics of their respective fields.  The book, as I’ve so often said, holds my favorite opening line ever.

The parallels are both inescapable and obvious: a young woman meets a man with a mysterious past, marries him and moves to his mansion, where the deceased former wife is nearly a physical presence.  Both end with the house in flames.

Joan Bennet in Secret Beyond the Door

The major difference, and Secret Beyond the Door‘s major point of interest is that the gothic horror comes from the husband himself, and the question of whether he is or isn’t planning to murder the young woman drives the film forward relentlessly.

Regardless of parallels, this one is an enjoyable thriller which should supply a couple of surprises and keep you on edge until the end.

As a surreal side note, I’ll add a Gilligan’s Island link: actress Natalie Schafer, who played Lovely Howell, is in this one as the young bride’s friend and traveling companion.

And, with the reflection that I never thought I’d be writing about Gilligan’s Island here, we can go on to the next film… soon.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose thriller Timeless is not based on Rebecca.  You can have a look here.

Did this guy ever screw up a film?

Bergman and Peck

Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck in Spellbound

Today, we look back on a rare beast – a suspense film from the mid-forties that had no noir pretensions whatsoever.  Spellbound (1945) is a Hitchcock vehicle which is the second Psychological thriller to have appeared on the list – the first was 1942’s Cat People.

The two films feel completely different, since the older movie is more about the shadowy workings of the mind, while Spellbound actually looks into both the methods and profession of psychology.  Whether or not it’s an accurate portrayal of the state of the field in the 1940s is not something we’re qualified to discuss, but for the purposes of the movie, it worked well.

As usual with Hitchcock, the movie is well thought out and reasonably convoluted – and the ending is impossible to guess, despite the best efforts.  Hitchcock was a master of foreshadowing enough that the partial reveal wasn’t a surprise to the more intelligent viewers, but that the whole picture would only really appear when the director himself felt the time was right.

That technique actually works much better in Spellbound than it did in the film that old Alfred himself said was his favorite.  In fact, of the movies he directed that have been on the list so far, this is the best of his Hollywood movies (although there are still plenty more to come, so that might change over the coming months.

Spellbound Dream Sequence

Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Dream sequence by Salvador Dali.

We won’t get into the plot of the film itself, as it’s well worth watching, but it’s interesting to see the kind of talent they put together for it.  As leading couple, no less than Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.  Then there was famous acting coach Michael Chekhov. The film even had the collaboration of Salvador Dali, who filmed the dream sequence, which was reputed to be completely insane, but, sadly, was cut by the production team and is now mostly lost (although Dali’s unmistakable flavor can still be seen in what remains).

Perhaps this film would give To Have and Have Not a run for the title of the old film with most still-recognizable names involved.  All that talent created a good flick – go find a copy and enjoy it!  It does somehow seem that most Hitchcocks fall into this category…

 

As always, a mention of two of the actors who were involved in this one who are still with us: Rhonda Fleming and Norman Lloyd.  Here’s a shout out and thank you, if you’re reading this!