Sunday, November 21, 2010

After Turkey ... Four Treats

Some folks are reluctant to go anywhere near the stores on the day after Thanksgiving.

It's not because they're stuffed from Thanksgiving dinner the day before, and they don't want to go anywhere ... although that might be part of it.

They're understandably wary of the crowds who have been lured to the stores, many of them in the dead of night, by the special prices being offered for the traditional kickoff to the Christmas shopping season.

Well, if you're planning to spend Friday at home, I've got something you can do if you have little interest in the football games being played that afternoon.

As I have often said, I owe my appreciation for Alfred Hitchcock's movies to my parents.

I enjoy them all, even the ones that are often dismissed as being among Hitchcock's lesser efforts. There are many directors who would give anything if their best films could rise to the level of mediocrity attained by Hitchcock's "lesser efforts."

Anyway, Friday is my birthday — so it's kinda nice that Turner Classic Movies will be showing four Hitchcock movies in a row that day.

I can't say that these films were among Hitchcock's "lesser efforts." Two of them — "Strangers on a Train" and "Dial M for Murder" — were included in the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 thrillers of all time. And one — "Foreign Correspondent" — was among the 400 nominees for that list.

To be honest, I can't really understand why the fourth Hitchcock film being shown by TCM"To Catch a Thief" — wasn't even nominated for that list. But it was on AFI's list of the Top 100 passion films of all time — presumably because of the sizzling on–screen relationship between Grace Kelly and Cary Grant — although I always thought that movie was more suspenseful than romantic.

Be that as it may ...

  • "Foreign Correspondent" can be seen at 10 a.m. (Central).

    It's the one movie of the four that I haven't seen, and I'm looking forward to it. It is the story of an American reporter who is trying to expose spies based in England. My understanding is that, as events unfold, the story leads into a fictional World War II (the movie was released more than a year before Pearl Harbor drew America into the war in Europe).

    It was the second movie that Hitchcock made after coming to the United States from Great Britain, and it wound up in competition for the Best Picture Oscar with the first movie he made, "Rebecca."

    "Rebecca" won, but, in hindsight, that may have been one of those decisions the Academy regretted, considering that the movie appeared almost prophetic when the United States, in spite of its efforts, found itself involved in World War II.

    It often seems to be overlooked these days — and perhaps that is understandable, given that Hitchcock's body of work includes films like "Psycho," "The Birds," "North by Northwest," "Vertigo" and "Rear Window."

    Perhaps that is also why I haven't seen it before. I will be glad to add it to the list of Hitchcock movies that I have seen — and to be able to do so on my birthday is a special treat.

  • At noon, you can see "Strangers on a Train." I haven't seen it in years, but I'm eager to see it again.

    Modern movie viewers might not think much of it. It's in black and white, it doesn't have splashy special effects (just some pretty innovative camerawork), but it's a classic. It explores one of Hitchcock's favorite themes — how good and evil can exist within the same person.

    A tennis star, played by Farley Granger, is trapped in a loveless marriage with Laura Elliot (later known as Kasey Rogers, the actress who played Louise Tate in Bewitched). He is approached by a stranger, played by Robert Walker, who offers to kill Granger's wife in exchange for the murder of his father.

    In case you didn't know, it served as the inspiration for Billy Crystal's "Throw Momma from the Train," a delightful homage to Hitchcock — and one of the best movie comedies of the last 25 years.

    But to appreciate that, you really must see "Strangers on a Train."

  • At 1:45 p.m., you can see "Dial M for Murder," one of the films Grace Kelly made with the great director.

    For a Philly girl, she managed an acceptable British accent — at least, to American ears.

    That's an important element of this movie's success because, other than "Rope," "Dial M for Murder" may have had more dialogue and less action than any other film Hitchcock ever made.

    If Kelly had not been believable as the affluent Englishwoman whose former tennis star husband wants to have murdered so he can have her money, the movie would have failed.

    I definitely do not think it was one of Hitchcock's best. I don't remember what I thought of it the first time I saw it, but in the viewings I have had since that time, my overriding impression has been that the story is perhaps more predictable than the others Hitchcock told.

    But I've always liked it, anyway, in spite of its shortcomings. And it was innovative in its way. It was filmed using a rather primitive 3–D technique. Watch closely and you can see it in the depth between people and objects.

  • Some folks will tell you that "To Catch a Thief" has no shortcomings.

    It had a great cast — Kelly, Grant, John Williams, Jessie Royce Landis. It had perhaps the most picturesque of backdrops, the Riviera. It won an Oscar for its cinematography. It told a very cerebral tale of a jewel thief who is at large and a retired cat burglar played by Grant who is the chief suspect.

    I can only conclude that it wasn't bloody enough for hard–core Hitchcock fans. No one important was killed. In fact, I recall no blood being shed — at least on camera.

    But I liked it. It had style. Judge for yourself. It's on at 3:45 p.m.
Anyway, that's how I'll be spending my day on Friday.

Not a bad way to spend one's birthday — especially if you're trying to avoid the crowds.