Posts Tagged 'Hitchcock'

When Trailers Strike Gold – Part 10 The Birds

Here’s the final installment. After this, I’m taking a little hiatus for a while. I have reached a time of refocus and transition, and I am a little unclear as to what priority blogging will receive. I might be posting a couple movie reviews soon, but for now, here’s The Birds.

There will never be another Hitchcock. He knew how to market his movies, and out of his entire repertoire, this is my favorite, ah, “lecture.”

Evident here, but perhaps lesser known, is Hitchcock’s sense of humor. Hitch loved practical jokes, and working one into a trailer was just a natural extension of his (disturbed?) playfulness. You wonder why no one does this anymore.

Notorious (1946)

notorious2Anyone who’s ever spent enough time listening to music knows when someone with real, palpable talent picks up an instrument, and you can begin to discern the differences between your buddy rocking out in the garage on his guitar, and the confidence of Eric Clapton’s fingers as he plays the strings.  Often called one of Alfred Hitchcock’s strongest films, Notorious plays the suspense spy thriller with similar, masterful grace. Watching this film, you know you’re watching something crafted by a master talent. 

It’s 1946, and Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) watches as her father goes to prison for conspiring with the Nazis.  In order to discern the secret stratagem of the Nazis, American agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) recruits Alicia, a German expatriate, to infiltrate a Nazi cell hiding out in Rio.  One of the cell’s leaders was an old friend of her father, a fellow named Alexander Sebatian (Claude Raines) who had once tried to court the fair Alicia, as men are wont to do. 

Alicia’a frank sexual drive, penchant for booze, and overall bratty demeanor make her less the unattainable beauty typically associated with Bergman.  Her spoiled nature would appeal mainly to predators, but she somehow manages to charm the steely agent Devlin, and he quickly falls in love with her before learning his superior’s intentions. They want Alicia to court Sebastian and learn the Nazi’s evil plan. By any means necessary. 

This complicated web of intimacy stirs a tense plot.  As Alicia works her way deeper into Sebastian’s heart, he asks her to marry him. 

Hitchcock makes some interesting choices in deciding how, where, and when to present information to the audience, particularly involving Devlin and Alicia’s relationship.  Though she marries Sebastian, the only actual romantic interaction the audience witnesses in the film is the now-famous kiss with Devlin – a long kiss, followed by several smaller ones that follow the pair from the hotel balcony, through a phone call, and into the room.  In one take.  (You can catch the first half of the scene here.) No doubt constrained by censors, Hitch does not show the lovers in any real stage of undress, or even under the covers.  The kiss itself was structured as such to get around the rule that lovers’ lips could touch for only a few seconds. Hitch stretches the kiss for just under three minutes. And it works. 

Bergman and Grant are, well, Bergman and Grant.  Though the performances ring with a touch of melodrama avoided by today’s working actors, it’s easy to say what made these two stars in their day.  When they step into their roles, they inhabit their character whereas many screen talents today seem to project a stock personality onto whatever script they’re given.  Grant and Bergman bring something different to each of their roles — Bergman leaves no trace of the lovely Ilsa anywhere in this film, and Grant keeps things wonderfully understated.  

Ben Hecht’s script creates a nice backbone for Hitchcock to work his magic.  The film keeps a steady pace, though some might find the ending a little abrupt.  The story avoids any real contrivances, allowing character’s choices to drive the plot.  Hitch had a reputation for working closely with his writers, and the film creates some wonderful opportunities for him to flex his developing reputation as master of suspense.  The camera work took an innovative turn for a film in 1946.  Hitchcock employs a fair amount of handheld camera work, keeping the movement more fluid and exciting, and even created a trend with his long tracking shot from an upstairs balcony that zeroes in on a key in our heroine’s hand. 

The film touches on several issues, running the gamut between Alicia’s patriotism, her alcoholism, and Sebastian’s castrated relationship to his mother (perhaps a precursor to Norman Bates).  Front and center, however, is an intimate examination of love, betrayal, and devotion.  Devlin’s courtship of Alicia receives little real exposition – he’s fallen for her, and in turn, she’s given herself to him.  Alicia never attempts to gloss over her sordid “notorious” habits, and once she’s given herself over to the villain, Devlin remains determined to protect her. 

Devlin’s devotion somewhat recalls the story of Hosea and Gomer. The story in the book of Hosea allegorized Israel’s wayward relationship with God, and both the biblical narrative, and the film, deal in the theme of devotion juxtaposed with betrayal.  The children of Israel had prostituted themselves out to other Gods, turning away from their first love to pursue other interests.  God allows his wayward children to run, but illustrates His devotion in Hosea’s act of purchasing back his wife after she had returned to a life of promiscuity. 

Devlin knows his job is to ready Alicia for a trip into the arms of the enemy, but he is at first unaware of the specifics, and having allowed himself to love Alicia, hates to tell her the extent of her mission.  It is Alicia’s promiscuity that the government agents which to exploit to learn the details of Sebastian’s operations.  As Devlin watches her descend deeper into hell, he is both repulsed by her and drawn to her. 

The film’s strongest facet, and again, more evidence of its composition in the hands of a master storyteller, is its subtlety.  For a spy thriller, tensions run palpable and taut, and yet not a single shot is fired.  The narrative is charged with sexual tension, yet not a single crude moment finds a way onto the screen.  Capable artists have handled crude material with a certain amount of style and acceptable grace, and Hitchcock’s creative choices likely stemmed from the limitations of his censors.  As John Nolte pointed out recently, those limitations forced some of the greatest creative work that inspired a generation of moviemakers, and helped turn Hitchcock into a true craftsman.