Despite a few rain showers, the TCM Film Festival was in full swing for day two. I saw three films today, two of which I had not previously seen.
I’m No Angel (1933)
This was my umpteenth Cary Grant film, but first Mae West film. I was surprised to learn that she wrote the screenplay, which was stuffed to the brim with innuendos. Clearly, this was a pre-Code film. In my opinion it was a good, not great film but I would absolutely recommend giving it a watch to see the very unique style of dialog and acting. It’s bolder than I imagined a film from ’33 would be and some of the lines are quite funny.
Nothing Sacred (1937)
I enjoyed this film, starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March, because it’s the rare screwball comedy that isn’t over-the-top silly. Lombard proved herself again to be a very gifted comedic actress. After seeing this film, it made me wonder what else she could have done in her career if not for her tragic death at age 33. The only thing I didn’t like about this film was the color palate. It was strangely like the muted color palate of the late 60′s/early 70′s instead of the brighter Technicolor look typical to classic films in color. I’m interested to know if anyone has seen a version where the color is vivid, as it the subdued color could just be found in the particular print I saw.
It’s indicative of the effectiveness of Hitchcock’s storytelling, James Stewart’s acting, and Bernard Herrmann’s score that each time I see this film, the ending leaves me breathless. The first time I saw this film was my freshman year of college. Even though I watched it on a 13-inch tv while wearing headphones so my roommate could study, it was gripping. Eight years later, I was able to watch it in the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theater with the same exhilarating effect. Kim Novak was on hand to introduce the film that I consider to be Hitchcock’s finest.
Good eeevening. As today marks the anniversary of the birth of a one Mr. Hitchcock, please do allow us to pay tribute to the Master of Suspense with the following post:
Lindsay picks: To Catch A Thief (1954)
I selected this appearance because it’s one of the rare times when the main character interacts/acknowledges Hitch during his cameo. More commonly, Hitch is part of the background, as the man walking along the street or a face in the crowd. In Thief, we get to see one of Hitch’s favorite actors (Cary Grant) react to his presence in a comical moment for the viewer.
Alix picks: Lifeboat (1944)
I selected this cameo because Hitchcock had to get clever to make a cameo appearance in Lifeboat since the whole film takes place in a boat with only ten passengers. His cameo appears 24 minutes into the film on a newspaper advertisement for a fictional weight loss drug.
For those of you who think this second post about Gossip Girl is two too many (*cough* Alix), hear me out. The powers at be at GG must love classic film because week after week, the episode titles are inspired by movies from the golden age of Hollywood.
Hi, Society (High Society): 1956 remake of The Philadelphia Story starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. You can read our review here.
Roman Holiday (Roman Holiday, 1953): Audrey Hepburn plays a princess who escapes royal life for a day, Gregory Peck is the newspaper reporter who accompanies her. Hepburn won the Best Actress Oscar for this performance.
The Magnificent Archibalds (The Magnificent Ambersons, 1942): An Orson Welles film about an upper class Midwestern family in the early 1900′s.
It’s A Wonderful Lie (It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946): James Stewart plays a man who is saved from committing suicide by his guardian angel. It’s the movie that’s always on tv during Christmas.
Gone With The Will (Gone With The Wind, 1939): My favorite all-time film. The film follows the life of headstrong southern belle Scarlett O’ Hara through the Civil War and its aftermath.
Southern Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Gentleman Prefer Blondes, 1953): Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell movie featuring the song “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”.
Enough About Eve (All About Eve, 1950): As we’ve said many times on this site: watch. this. movie. Bitingly clever script. Impeccable cast. And narration by Shere Khan (yes, from The Jungle Book).
The Lady Vanished (The Lady Vanishes, 1939): One of Alfred Hitchcock’s British films. Referenced by Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally with the line “You’re the most contemptible person I’ve ever met…”.
The Treasure of Serena Madre (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948): John Huston (Anjelica’s dad) directed this notable Humphrey Bogart film. The line “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges” in Blazing Saddles is a variation of one of the lines from this film.
Go ahead and sing the title of this post out loud, a la Dwight Shrute. But Ryan didn’t start this fire, Billy Joel did. Joel’s 1989 hit includes a whole lotta classic film references and we’re going through them one by one for those Gen Y’ers who know the song but wonder where the River Kwai is (in Thailand).
Doris Day – Wholesome singer and actress Doris Day starred in films such as Pillow Talk, That Touch of Mink, and Love Me or Leave Me. In Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), she performs the song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”.
South Pacific – Rodgers & Hammerstein musical adapted to film in 1958. Neither of us have seen the musical or movie, so we’ll recommend Oklahoma! instead. Yeow!
Marilyn Monroe – I’m pretty sure we all know who MM is. She’s best known for her comedies, but also made a couple dramatic films including The Misfits (1961) which I highly recommend.
Brando – Marlon Brando is one of the most influential actors of all time. Famous classic films include A Streetcar Named Desire (“Stelllllla!!!”), On The Waterfront (“I coulda been a contender…”), and The Wild One (“What’re you rebelling against? / “Whaddya got?”). Famous modern films include The Godfather (“I”m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”) and Apocalypse Now (“The horror”). This EW article talks about how fascinating Brando is, on and off screen.
The King And I – Another Rodgers & Hammerstein musical-turned-film about a British schoolteacher who travels to Siam to tutor the royal family. Deborah Kerr (love her! even though it’s not her singing in this one) and Yul Brynner star.
James Dean – I’m sure we’re all familiar with Mr. Dean as well. In only 3 films (and one tragic accident), Dean became the quintessential rebel.
Princess Grace – Or, as she was pre-April ’56, Grace Kelly. Yes, as in the one Mika sang about. My favorite actress and an American style icon, you can read more about her in our birthday tribute.
Peyton Place – A 1957 film about the scandalous lives of small town inhabitants. Basically “One Tree Hill” in the 50′s.
Bridge On The River Kwai – Alix set me straight on this one. David Lean’s (read: lonnng) 1957 film was the top moneymaking film that year right ahead of Peyton Place. One of the greatest war films of all time, Bridge won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year.
Ben-Hur – A 1959 Biblical-times epic starring Charlton Heston. If you’re around our age, you probably know him as the guy who was president of the NRA during our youth. If you like chariot races, check this one out.
Psycho – Hitchcock’s most famous film boasts a handful of iconic elements: the shower scene, the Bates Motel, “mother”, screeching violins. The string cue is arguably the most replicated music cue ever, appearing in everything from “The Simpsons” to Finding Nemo.
Lawrence of Arabia – Peter O’Toole (remember that old guy with the super blue eyes who was nominated for Best Actor along side Leonardo DiCaprio and Ryan Gosling in 2006? Him.) stars in this based on a true story epic about T.E. Lawrence and the Middle Eastern theatre during WWI. One of mine and Steven Spielberg’s favorites.
Reagan – Ronald Reagan was a movie actor before he became the 40th President of the United States. While not a major star, he did appear in well-known films like Dark Victory, King’s Row, and Knute Rockne, All American.
I originally wrote this post as part of ClassicForever’s month-long birthday celebration for Alfred Hitchcock in August. It now makes its Anatomy Of A Classic debut. Personal branding may be a current craze, but one of its best practitioners is undoubtedly classic.
We often hear about Alfred Hitchcock’s filmmaking genius – the lush visuals of Vertigo, the building tension in Notorious, the directive camerawork in Psycho, but little about Hitch’s other area of genius – marketing. Here are a few of the ways the Master of Suspense was also the Master of Marketing:
1) Cultivating a persona
Quick – what does Michael Curtiz look like? How does Frank Capra talk? I don’t know either, but I bet it won’t take you a second to conjure up an image of large-jowled, black-suited Hitch with his slow, deliberate speech and his witty black humor. The simple outline of his profile serves as an easily recognizable logo. He was the high-profile figurehead of his own product line. It’s personal branding at its best. Hitch carefully crafted a complete character in order to have another way to sell his films – as an off-screen star. He soon became as large of a draw as his A-list actors. The public wanted to see the newest Hitchcock film partly because they knew who he was and what he stood for.
This isn’t a criticism. And if you asked Hitch, I bet he’d agree with the label. While his films could speak for themselves, the gimmicks gained extra public attention and added an element of fun. When Hitch announced that no late patrons would be admitted to theaters playing Psycho and pleaded with audiences not to give away the ending to their friends, the film became an instant “water cooler” topic. The cameos Hitch made in almost all of his films made for a fun game where audiences would see if they could spot the filmmaker. These things didn’t add significant artistic merit to his movies, but they helped bring them to a larger audience.
3) Producing Provocative Content
Pushing the envelope was one of Hitch’s specialties. He never shied away from things that at the time were deemed “morally unsound”. And while I’m not calling him a sensationalist, I think he kept in mind that scandal equals attention. Hitch was always trying to sneak things past the censors, and often fought with them to keep certain shots or dialogue in his films. In a time where studios could produce a film a week, Hitch had to stand out from the numerous competitors to win the audience’s attention. Exciting, provocative content will do that every time.
4) Finding a Niche
“I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach.”
Unlike a Billy Wilder or Victor Fleming, almost all of Hitch’s films fall into the same genre category – suspense. By sticking to a certain type of filmmaking, Hitch became closely associated with the genre, and soon was widely recognized as the top director in that field. By specializing Hitch was able to link his name with his craft so that when a patron was in the mood for a suspense film, they’d be most likely to seek out the latest Hitchcock movie, knowing that Hitchcock equaled suspense.
Alfred Hitchcock is a fantastic filmmaker. And while his movies have remained so popular primarily because of their quality, let’s appreciate the secondary reason as well – Hitch could market a movie as well as he could make one.
The American Film Institute has launched the beta version of a new video portal that classic movie fans may find interesting. The site houses clips from such events as the Life Achievement Awards, the 100 years… series, and various seminars. The site is a little slow and difficult to navigate, but hopefully these issues will be addressed during this testing period. I hope they’ll be adding to the content, as there are some Life Achievement Award ceremonies I’d love to see that are currently not posted (Cagney, Welles, Wilder, Bette Davis, etc).