Author Archives: Abbey Bailey

The Trouble With Harry (1954)

Renowned Hitchcock critic Robin Wood described The Trouble With Harry as “the only truly Hitchcockian comedy.” Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s guilty pleasure film failed in both American and British box offices at the time of its release. Many critics believe its failure was caused by the bizarre humor Hitchcock used in the film. He had thought, having used a more British-centric comedic style, UK audiences would gravitate towards the film, and that this in turn would help to open up American audiences to a different type of “funny.” The other aspect of the film which could have turned audiences away was the dreamy quality the film was shot in, which is an effect developed by one of Hitchcock’s favorite cinematographers, Robert Burks. Burks helped to give the desired effect of a surrealist dream, which Hitchcock had used before, most memorably in Spellbound. While this film has some strange characteristics, 60 years later it is considered a Hitchcock oddity that is a must-see for true Hitchcock fans. After collecting dust for several decades, The Trouble With Harry has finally started to receive the fame it deserves as the one and only Hitchcockian comedy.

Word count: 189

Wood, Robin. “Male Desire, Male Anxiety: The Essential Hitchcock.” In A Hitchcock Reader, edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 223. 2nd ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1986.

2 Spellbound and 4 Vertigo by Les LeVeque

Les LeVeque, a NY based former sculptor, has taken two beloved Hitchcock classics and turned them into contemporary short films. LeVeque uses simple algorithms and computer interface to develop these shorts, and in some of his other works, encourages political and social activism through this unique medium. However, in these two videos, LeVeque attempts to push the boundaries of artistic expression through Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and Vertigo (1958).

Critic Patricia Zimmermann explains that “in 2 Spellbound (1999), LeVeque condenses Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) into a 7 1/2 minute flickering Rorschach test by extracting a single frame from every second of the original film in a linear fashion–from Hitchcock’s opening sequence to the copyright warning” (Zimmermann). The short is given a soundtrack of electronic music that fits the pace of the flashing images, with excerpts of dialogue like the words “hallucination” or “charming diagnosis.” One can see a LeVeque influence on the music video for Wax Tailor’s 2005 song “Que Sera,” which features clips from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and the song itself, which is electronic, features clips of Doris Day singing “Que Sera” from The Man Who Knew Too Much in its refrain.

Alternatively, in his 2000 short 4 Vertigo, LeVeque uses a slightly different algorithm to alter Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In this short, LeVeque still uses the same Rorschach-like element, but also flips the clips upside down, so it seems as if they are spinning in a circle. What LeVeque does change about this short is that the soundtrack is not original music, but is actually an edited version of the original Vertigo soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann, giving this short a much more eerie and chaotic feel.

Impressions of Vertigo

Having previously seen Vertigo about two years ago, my opinion of it has certainly been altered after watching the film a second time. After my first viewing, I felt robbed. The plot line was not cohesive, the ending was abrupt, and Jimmy Stewart’s character was incredibly irritating. However, I definitely needed that second viewing to appreciate the film’s artistic value. While I personally do not rank is as high as the #1 movie ever, I understand the rating. With the second viewing, I had more time to pick up on smaller cinematographic details, as opposed to being wrapped up in the extensive plot line. I can now appreciate Kim Novak’s versatility as an actress in this film, along with Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of a psychopath. During my first viewing, I struggled with the way Scottie treats Judy, him wanting to completely change her, even though she does technically understand why he is doing what he is doing. Because of this, I think this movie is a bit unsavory to my generation as an audience, as opposed to the generation actually rating these films. Alternatively, I can now view Scottie as a character haunted by Madeline, and the disconnect between the way he treats Judy and the way he actually is, as he is seen in the beginning of the movie towards Midge, almost as if they are not the same character. So, to anyone who had trouble watching this movie, I recommend giving it another chance.

The Family Dynamic in “Shadow of a Doubt”

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt, the family dynamic is a crucial piece of the puzzle in this thriller. Young Charlie begins to suspect that her mother’s brother, and her namesake, Uncle Charlie is the Merry Widow Murderer after talking with a detective posed as a census taker, Jack. She then begins to look closer at some of the clues that have popped up since Uncle Charlie’s sudden appearance, like the ring with the engraved initials he gives Young Charlie, which only helps to fortify her suspicions that her uncle is the murderer.

However, Young Charlie knows that if she were to tell her family her suspicions about Uncle Charlie, it would ruin them, especially her mother. The family is already on the rocks when the movie starts, and the audience can sense this with Young Charlie’s first line: “This family has just gone to pieces.”

Therefore, the family dynamic keeps the plot from developing smoothly into Uncle Charlie paying for his crimes, and instead Young Charlie must find another way for the truth to be heard, even if the truth is divulged after the fact. Had the Newton family not been in this film, it would have made for a very bland movie.

McLaughlin, James. ” All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Staircases in The Lodger and Blackmail

Out of the many prominent motifs Alfred Hitchcock uses in his films, staircases are the key to understanding his view of the world. Coming from a lower-middle class family himself, Hitchcock uses stairs to indicate differences in societal class. In the 1927 film The Lodger, Ivor Novello’s character lives above the family who rents the house out, indicating to the audience that he is of higher societal stature than the rest of the family. The lodger’s class is also indicated when he purchases a very expensive dress Daisy, the landlady’s daughter, models for him. The viewer must pay careful attention to visual clues, like the staircase, which hint at the lodger’s class in Hitchcock’s early silent films.

the lodger

Now adding sound, in his 1929 film Blackmail, Hitchcock uses an elaborately created staircase set design to show their important significance. In this film, the stairs to Crewe’s apartment are like venturing into another world, where everything delves into chaos. Hitchcock shows us the long walk up with Alice and Crewe using a side angle, and then Alice’s lone journey back into the real world after she has defended herself against Crewe. Hitchcock gives us a downward view of Alice running down the staircase, an angle which he will be known for in his 1958 film Vertigo.

b stairs

Blackmail_stairs_1

 

Staircases are a dominant element in many Hitchcock films, and they can indicate a variety of things, like class in The Lodger, and an almost surreal journey into another world in Blackmail.