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Messages - KC

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The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: Yesterday at 12:01:24 AM »
PS, AKA, if you're not clear on who the main characters are (in any film of this era, not just Hitchcock) ... look for the ones who get the most closeups.

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 13, 2018, 11:59:59 PM »
I watched Sabotage last night and found it very absorbing. (Remember, I'd seen it before, and was already more than familiar with the "big shocker," so I was free to concentrate on other aspects.) I have quite a lot to say about it, but I don't know if I'll find the time or patience to type out everything. For now, just a few points.

1) If this film were being released today, it would surely be titled Terror or The Terrorists. Wreaking havoc at the heart of a great city, killing dozens of innocent people ... we are all too familiar with these tactics in today's world. Oh, and using children as the courier for explosives. (Maybe it wasn't the original plan of the "saboteurs" to blow up a bus with the child courier on board, but that was the result, and it's something we've come to expect will happen today with relentless frequency.

2) This movie is over-the-top meta. One of the most self-conscious of directors makes a movie with at its heart ... a movie theater. The theater is inextricably connected to the domestic life of the central characters: Verloc owns it, his wife mans the box office, and you can't get to their living quarters without passing through it. We're constantly reminded that these people (like Hitchcock) depend for their livelihood on pleasing people watching movies. If they are displeased ... if they ask for their money back, as people did in the opening scene, the characters lose their livelihood. And yet the movie story Hitchcock chooses to tell is one that DID displease audiences, to the point where many were, if not asking for their money back, at least publicly venting their anger towards the director.

3) And what are the movies that please audiences? On the evidence of what we see here, mostly movies about ... murder. (Bartholomew the Strangler, for example.) Certainly by this time audiences expected the pleasure of a good murder mystery from the average Hitchcock movie. But the killings that happen in this one will mostly make audiences profoundly uneasy: first the explosion on the bus, which Hitchcock himself admitted violated the usual pact filmmakers make with the audience, and then the sudden stabbing of Verloc by the very sympathetic female lead, and her deeply troubled reaction to her own act of violence.

4) The birds. The Birds! Of course, in 1937 Hitchcock would have no way of knowing that almost three decades later he'd make a movie in which he would cast birds as actual terrorists (or "saboteurs"), but their role in this film is interesting enough. The bombmaker, like Verloc, leads a double life, and like Verloc, his two lives are intertwined. Verloc passes through his movie theater to his domestic quarters, where he plans acts of sabotage. The bombmaker passes through his bird shop, where he sells happily singing canaries to lonely people wanting a companion, to his domestic quarters, where he keeps bombmaking ingredients in ordinary containers in an ordinary cabinet, so ordinary that he doesn't at first notice that his granddaughter's doll has found a place there. When he delivers a bomb to Verloc, it comes with a pair of cheery canaries in a cage, a present for young Stevie, already doomed as he whistles to his new feathered friends.

Then after the explosion, when Mrs. Verloc has realized her husband is responsible for the death of Stevie and the others on the bus, after his weak attempt to justify himself to her, she rushes past the canaries in the cage, out of the apartment and into the theater, where people are enjoying a Disney cartoon. She sits down in the audience and begins laughing too. We hear whistling, and see what's on the screen ... cartoon birds. Mrs. Verloc keeps on laughing with the others, until one of the birds is pierced by an arrow and falls out of the tree. It's "Who killed Cock Robin?" another murder story.

More to come, I hope, on the topic of "A Woman Alone."

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 11, 2018, 11:20:20 PM »
Ready for an excerpt or two from a Hitchcock interview? 

Actually, this first one is from an article by Hitch, titled "The Enjoyment of Fear," originally published in Good Housekeeping 128 (February 1949): 39, 241–43, 116-121. (All of these were reprinted in a collection titled Hitchcock on Hitchcock, edited by Sidney Gottlieb, 1995)

... What all this amounts to is this: as the audience sympathy for a character is built up, the audience assumes that a sort of invisible cloak to protect the wearer from harm is being fitted. Once the sympathies are fully established and the cloak is finished, it is not—in the audience opinion, and in the opinion of many critics—fair play to violate the cloak and bring its wearer to a disastrous end. I did it once, in a picture called Sabotage. One of the characters was a small boy, with whom the audience was encouraged to fall in love. I sent the boy wandering about London with what he supposed was a can of film under his arm, but what the audience knew full well contained a time bomb. Under this set of circumstance, the lad is protected by his cloak from premature explosion of the bomb. I blew him up anyway, along with several other passengers on a bus he happened to be riding.

Now, that episode in Sabotage was a direct negation of the invisible cloak of protection worn by sympathetic characters in motion pictures. In addition, because the audience knew the film can contained a bomb and the boy did not, to permit the bomb to explode was a violation of the rule forbidding a direct combination of suspense and terror, or forewarning and surprise. Had the audience not been informed of the real contents of the can, the explosion would have come as a complete surprise. As a result of a sort of emotional numbness induced by a shock of this kind, I believe their sensibilities might not have been so thoroughly outraged. As it was, the audiences—and the critics, too—were unanimously of the opinion that I should have been riding in the seat next to the lad, preferably the seat he set the bomb on.

Next, from an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, originally published in Peter Bogdanovich, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1963):

Bogdanovich: Sabotage had a grimmer aspect than most of the other British films. Is this because of the bomb incident?

Hitchcock: Oh, that was a big error. I made a cardinal error there in terms of suspense. The bomb should never have gone off. If you build an audience up to that point, the explosion becomes strangely anti-climactic. You work the audience up to such a degree that they need the relief. The critics were very angry. One woman said, "I could hit you." I found everybody protesting against it. Now the boy had to be killed for the sake of the story. One should have done the killing a different way, off the screen or something. I shouldn't have made a suspense thing of it.

Finally, from "Alfred Hitchcock on his Films: Interview with Huw Whelden," originally published in The Listener, August 6, 1964, 189–90:
Hitchcock: I once [in Sabotage (1936)] committed a grave error in having a bomb from which I had extracted a great deal of suspense. I had the thing go off and kill someone, which I should never have done, because they needed the relief from their suspense. Bad technique: never repeated it.

Wheldon: Bad technique, yes. Mind you, perhaps it came nearer reality, because bombs do go off.

Hitchcock: That's probably true. I don't think many people want reality, whether it is in the theatre or in a film. It must look real, but it must never be real, because reality is something none of us can stand, at any time.

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 11, 2018, 10:14:31 PM »
Having just watched one of my favorite characters in a contemporary TV series get blown to smithereens in the final episode of the series ... I'm not feeling much like watching Sabotage tonight. I'll try to get to it tomorrow, though.

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 11, 2018, 09:34:18 PM »
On the other hand, "Wear.," in Variety (March 3, 1937) ...

Joseph Conrad's novel on the activities of a secret agent has been made into a fairly gripping story by Director Alfred Hitchcock. Actually it is an intimate character study of a thick-skulled, brutal criminal. This is a weakness, because average American audiences expect Scotland Yard sleuthing to develop. When it doesn't, the film disappoints.

Picture does not spell more than average box-office returns, and most of this will have to come from the doubles. Sylvia Sidney is the only name that means anything in the U.S., while Oscar Homolka, who gives the top performance, is unknown to American customers. Other detriments are slow pace, lack of humor and infinite attention to detail.

Picture will not add to Miss Sidney's laurels. She has only one really gripping scene, and merely walks through the majority of the episodes. Photographer never flatters her; and the costume department apparently dished her whatever was handy. In addition, the sole opportunity, via the romance with the youthful detective, is so haphazardly developed that it proves incidental to the central theme.

Sabotage by foreign agents operating in England provides the background for the visual study of the dim-witted criminal. Author has taken a cowardly American gangster type for his research, portraying his reactions under different existing circumstances. First, when he is forced to participate in a bomb plot, then when he shoves responsibility off on his wife's small brother, and his feelings when he realizes the youth has lost his life carrying out this mission. There is a climaxial close-up of his brutal nature as he, too late, realizes his wife's intention of killing him.

When interest focuses on him, the vehicle is gripping, largely due to Hitchcock's directorial skill along these lines. But when the picture attempts to be flip, or diverges too far from this main character, it becomes slovenly, with unwitty dialog, stodgey backgrounds and divergent themes.

Director Hitchcock and cameraman Bernard Knowles have teamed well for the series of episodes leading to the timed bomb blast. Both have done well in developing suspense, with the time element always kept to the fore. Yet the actual explosion is only a flash on the screen, and a bad let-down.

Oscar Homolka's characterization of the slow-thinking, cowardly gangster is stand-out, as usual. John Loder makes a likeable Scotland Yard operative. Desmond Tester, as the typical youngster, is entirely too precise with his boyish dialog to fit this role. There are several good minor parts, particularly those taken by William Dewhurst and Matthew Boulton.

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 11, 2018, 09:29:58 PM »
Here's a pair of reviews of Sabotage (or The Woman Alone) from the New York Times. Both of these are by Frank S. Nugent, and appeared on respectively February 27 and February 28, 1937. Note, no spoiler here.

Alfred Hitchcock, that sturdy yeoman of the Gaumont-British guard, has whittled a pitilessly melodramatic segment from Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Agent" and, calling it "The Woman Alone, " has placed it on exhibition at the Roxy as a masterly exercise in suspense. His new film is imperfect narrative, but perfect dramaturgy. Impatiently brushing aside all but the semblance of motivation, he has plunged his camera lens into the heart of Conrad's story and has brought out a brilliantly executed fragment of a plot that had more logic than he gives it. In another director this would have been unpardonable, but Mr. Hitchcock's technique is its own excuse.

Always the master of his picture's destiny, Mr. Hitchcock has reduced "The Woman Alone" to the bare essentials of its narrative, selecting only those incidents which he could bend to his melodramatic will. His directorial pace is deceptively deliberate, but he builds ruthlessly to his climaxes and he makes their impact hard and sudden. His players, including the superb Oscar Homolka, Sylvia Sidney, John Loder and that engaging youngster, Desmond Tester, are held rigidly to the line of story advancement but, within the narrow limits Hitchcock permits them, contribute sound characterizations.

The scene is London; the time the present; the theme sabotage. For reasons obscure, a small cinema theatre owner, Verloc, has been commissioned to terrorize London. His first step is to cripple the city's lighting plant. London accepts the blackout as a joke. The foreign agent employing him warns that London must not laugh the next time: a time bomb, left in a Piccadilly cloakroom, would really test the British sense of humor.

Verloc, under surveillance by Scotland Yard, is unable to deliver the bomb himself and selects his wife's small brother as the innocent messenger of death. The lad takes the paper-wrapped bomb, timed to explode at 1:45, and begins his trip across London. Verloc has warned him to leave the harmless little packet no later than 1:30. Hitchcock has directed the sequence fiendishly. It is almost an agonizing experience to have to sit silently and watch the careless youngster's dawdling progress across London, idling at shop windows, selected by a sidewalk vender for a hair-tonic demonstration, delayed by a parade, by traffic and by fussy bobbies.

We won't tell you what happens. That would be to cheat Mr. Hitchcock of his just reward, but it is a warning what you may expect -- which, as is the way of all Hitchcock melodramas, is the unexpected.

Mr. Homolka as Verloc is a perfect tool for Hitchcock's deliberate tempo. Miss Sidney as his bewildered wife, tragically mothering her young brother; Master Tester as the boy, John Loder as the romantic sergeant from Scotland Yard and William Dewhurst as the bomb manufacturer are severally perfect. But it is Mr. Hitchcock's picture and a valuable one, for all its refusal to give us the whys and the wherefores of the sabotage plot.

Mr. Hitchcock's "The Woman Alone," produced by Gaumont British and now at the Roxy, finds the rotund, cup-breaking English director at his mercilessly melodramatic best. In common with that other departmental hero, Fritz Lang, Mr. Hitchcock has an amazing and an almost unanalyzable gift for creating and prolonging suspense. It is more than mere camera technique, more than mere editing, more than the mere expressive performances he invariably gets from his players. All three contribute, of course, but Mr. Hitchcock breathes something beyond these into his pictures. His tempo is rhythmic and hysterical. He sets his mood, he binds you to it, he leads you relentlessly to an emotional breaking point, then snaps his fingers and releases you from his spell.

Possibly I am unduly sensitive to his method, but I have yet to leave one of his pictures without feeling that I have left most of my starch behind me. He has one sequence in this tale of sabotage -- the film is based on Joseph Conrad's "Secret Agent" -- which not only wilted my collar but my spine. A small boy, innocently carrying a time bomb set to explode at 1:45, sets out on his journey across London to Piccadilly Circus, where he has been told to leave the harmless little package at a checkroom. His instructions were to get there without fail by 1:30. The words "infernal machine" really assume their true meaning as we watch that youngster dawdling in front of shop windows, undergoing a hair-tonic demonstration by a sidewalk merchant, gaping at the Lord Mayor's Show, being delayed by traffic lights as the clock ticks off its deadly minutes. Mr. Hitchcock is unsparing; he has given us a withering picture.

Thanks for another great observation, Hocine! You also mention High Plains Drifter. I think the Sudden Impact ending is even more reminiscent of that.

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 10, 2018, 10:45:39 PM »
I'd be interested!  :)

Coming soon! :)

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Rear Window (1954)
« on: October 10, 2018, 10:43:34 PM »
I'm pretty sure KC is referring to the scene when the woman discovers her dog has been killed.

Is it? It's still as seen from Jeff's apartment -- though the camera is zoomed in closer and Lisa and Jeff aren't looking through binoculars or the camera lens. We don't see anything in that shot that couldn't be seen from Jeff's vantage point.

We are ready for the big reveal!

I started to answer this a few days ago, then got distracted by baseball for a while. No more of that this year!

Doug nailed it. But looking back through the film, I admit I was wrong. There are, in fact, a number of other scenes where the camera is quite close on the neighbors and their activities, closer than Jeff could be without aid of binoculars or his gigantic telephoto lens, which he's not using at the time. Notably the shot at the beginning of the film, when the camera leisurely pans around all the windows at the other side of the courtyard, finally swinging around to show us ... Jeff, fast asleep in his wheelchair, and not even looking out the window.

However, this scene still stands out, for a number of reasons.

1) It breaks abruptly into a rare moment when Jeff and Lisa are absorbed in each other, not paying any attention to the dramas across the way. Indeed, the blinds are drawn. When the neighbor whose dog has been killed screams, Lisa opens the blinds, and this is what they see:

2) There follows an abrupt cut to this shot of the same anguished neighbor who was seen in long shot an instant earlier:

The effect is similar to a zoom shot, a technique not then in use in movies, since the necessary lenses weren't yet available, and which would be so overworked in the decade or so after it was introduced that Godard called it "the Enemy No. 1 of cinema." But here it serves to pull the spectator's attention abruptly away from Jeff's and Lisa's moment of intimacy and into the midst of the drama across the way.

3) There follows a quick montage of reaction shots from the neighbors, all of them at a similar distance, that is with the camera much closer than Jeff's or Lisa's POV. I don't think most of the earlier "objective" shots are as close as we get here, certainly not to so many of the neighbors in quick succession. Here's a couple of others.

All of this serves to throw into sharp relief Jeff's observation, when the little drama is over and most of the neighbors have turned away: "In the whole courtyard, only one person didn't come to the window." That would be Thorwald. Another shot shows us his darkened apartment window, his presence barely made known by the glow of a cigar:

This is the turning point of the movie, where Jeff attains near-certainty of Thorwald's guilt, and where most spectators will be similarly convinced. In a movie some analysts have declared to be mostly about voyeurism, it's very ingenious of Hitchcock to make such a point of showing us these now-familiar characters so much closer than usual, then have the focus of the scene be on something we DON'T see.

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 10, 2018, 06:56:54 PM »
I could post some excerpts from interviews with Hitchcock where he discusses "THE SCENE," if anyone's curious. I could also post an excerpt from a contemporary review demonstrating that the concept of "spoiler" wasn't around when this film was released.

(From a big Hitchcock project I worked on back in the 1990s ... I found where I put the text files we used.)

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 09, 2018, 07:00:55 PM »
Well, I hope what I said was vague enough not to be a spoiler! (If you don't think so, we can delete these three posts.)

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Sabotage (1936)
« on: October 09, 2018, 06:24:42 PM »
I haven't re-watched it yet, but I know it has a classic Hitchcock suspense scene, which ends differently from what audiences probably expected.

This one, Daniel?

Sorry, I can't help, but maybe somebody here can.

Eastwood News / Re: THE MULE: Production Information and News
« on: October 06, 2018, 12:03:51 AM »
Welcome back, PeterD! :)

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Rear Window (1954)
« on: October 05, 2018, 10:32:05 PM »
We can't let this discussion come to an end without this (starting at 44 seconds in):

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<a href="" target="_blank" class="new_win"></a>

Eastwood News / Re: THE MULE: Production Information and News
« on: October 05, 2018, 09:54:27 PM »
How was A Star Is Born? Wait, don't tell me here ... We have a thread for it!

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Rear Window (1954)
« on: October 05, 2018, 08:19:02 PM »
OK, they discuss whether it could be "Mrs. Thorwald" buried in the flower bed. Stella says "Mr. Thorwald could hardly put his wife's body in a plot of ground about one foot square. Unless of course he put her in standing on end. Then he wouldn't need a knife and a saw." But there's something buried there, as Jeff demonstrates with some recent shots of the flower bed. Lisa then allows as how it might be precisely "the knife, and the saw." Jeff lures Thorwald away from the apartment so Lisa and Stella can look. They dig up the flower bed, but find nothing. That detail is left hanging until the end, when there's this exchange:

DOYLE (to DETECTIVE): Did he say what was buried in the flower bed?

DETECTIVE: Yeah.  He said the dog got too inquisitive, so he dug it up. It's in a hat box, over in his apartment.

DOYLE (to STELLA): Wanna look?

STELLA: No thanks—I don't want any part of her. (She does a take, wide-eyed. Fade to black.)

That's the end of the main part of the movie. It's followed by the epilogue, later on when it's cooled off, and Jeff now has both legs in a cast.

So yes, I think we are supposed to assume it might be the head! Typical for Hitchcock's macabre humor.  ;D

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Rear Window (1954)
« on: October 05, 2018, 07:34:21 PM »
I'll have to recheck that detail in the dialogue ... maybe it IS the head.

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Rear Window (1954)
« on: October 05, 2018, 07:10:10 AM »
The knife and the saw. He moved them before the ladies came to investigate, because the dog had gotten too nosy.

The CEWB Movie Club / Re: Rear Window (1954)
« on: October 04, 2018, 09:49:06 PM »
KC, what scene are you referring to?


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