After our wildly successful First Annual Winter Marathon, we decided to give it another try. Besides, if we hadn’t, the whole “annual” part wouldn’t have lived up to its billing. For our second, and even more wildly successful marathon, we decided to go with the Alfred Hitchcock theme, since word is he’s a pretty good director and there were a bunch of films to choose from. After a vote whose results would probably have been certified by Jimmy Carter himself, we came up with three winners which coincidentally fit our criteria: one older film, one lesser-known film, and one well-known film. The winners were: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Strangers On A Train, and Rear Window, respectively, in chronological order, AND in order of presentation (amazing how that works!)
Let’s start with The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). Hitchcock remade this film in 1956 with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, but without Peter Lorre, what’s the point?
As the film begins, we are following the St. Moritz vacation of Bob and Jill Lawrence and their irritating teenaged daughter Betty. Jill finds herself in a skeet shooting competition with a fellow vacationer and loses when she is distracted by the whiny and needy Betty. Don’t you worry, Betty, you’re going to get yours yet!
At the ballroom dinner following Jill’s ignominious sharpshooting defeat at the hands of a brutal assassin (oops! I gave that away!) she spends altogether too much time hitting on an attractive French skier while completely ignoring the very complacent Bob. However, in a precursor to the Friday the 13th motif (where the surest way to be killed by Jason is to give in to carnal teenage urges), while they are dancing cheek to cheek Jill’s French flame is shot in the chest. Because he’s a spy of some sort. With his dying breaths he tips Jill off to the presence of some important info in his hotel room, and when Bob learns of this, he blithely sends off little Betty to their room unaccompanied so he can sleuth around a bit. Clever move, Bob!
Unfortunately for Bob, he has precious little time and while he uncovers a secret note hidden in the hollowed-out handle of a shaving brush (how he thought to look there is unclear to say the least), he’s quickly apprehended – fortunately for him it’s by the authorities. Just like the recently-departed French spy, Bob has now become The Man Who Knew Too Much, as the note concerns a few details surrounding a future assassination plot. However, since Bob is in the grips of the authorities, the baddies can’t just kill him, but at the same time he can’t possibly be allowed to spill the beans. This is where sweet little Betty comes in. The assassins kidnap the unaccompanied Betty and relay word of this abduction to Bob with the threat that she will be killed if he divulges anything to the authorities.
Either the threat works, or Bob and Jill are simply happy to be rid of their little mistake treasure. They stonewall the authorities even upon their return to their native London, but eventually Bob starts snooping around anyway. He and a friend discover that there is a dentist named Barbor and on the day mentioned in the note, go in very suspiciously acting like people with toothaches.
Barbor suspects Bob while he’s in the chair, and makes a move to gas him, but Bob turns the tables, gasses Barbor and places him in the chair, disguising himself as the dentist as surreptitious people have surreptitious meetings in surreptitious corners of the office.
After leaving the dentist, Bob and his buddy find a church bearing the symbol found on the secret note’s stationery and go in, completely blowing their cover. There’s some hypnotism, a glorious chair fight, and Peter Lorre emerges as the mastermind of the current assassination plot, which involves our St. Moritz winning marksman shooting a diplomat at the Albert Hall with his gunfire to be disguised by a particularly loud burst in the music.
Bob’s friend escapes and telephones the news to Jill, who goes to the Albert Hall to foil the plot. She accomplishes this by screaming at the critical moment and distracting the shooter, who as a result merely wings the diplomat. Turnabout is fair play.
Although he thinks he’s clear, the authorities manage to follow the shooter back to the church hideout, and an all-out shootout begins. In the confusion, Bob manages to free little Betty, and she tries to escape to the roof with the marksman after her. The assassin catches her there, puts a gun to her head, and the police sniper in the street is unwilling to take the shot. So Jill grabs his gun.
It’s a perfect opportunity for Jill to be rid of Betty once and for all, but she misses, hits the assassin, and has to play it off like that was her plan the whole time. Oh Betty, I love you so much, blah blah blah.
It was a pretty good movie, but the soundtrack was really of a quite poor quality. I’ll probably need to watch it again with subtitles on to get the whole thing, but I think I got it all right (though maybe I haven’t quite divined the exact nature of Jill and Bob’s feelings towards Betty…)
Next up was Strangers On A Train, from 1951. Guy Haines is an amateur tennis star who has accomplished the somewhat bizarre feat of becoming rich off of being…an amateur. I thought amateurs didn’t get paid, but no matter. Guy is also in the midst of a separation from his wife Miriam, a trampety little tramp who spends her time floozing it about with boys in the Tunnel Of Love and other unsavory parts of the local carnival scene. Guy, meanwhile, is having his own affair with Anne Morton, daughter of a U.S. Senator – but it’s OK because he’s being discreet. I think.
While Guy is on his way to a tennis tournament (on a train!) (Guy on the train, not the tennis tournament. That would be weird. The tennis tournament is in Washington.) he gets stalked by a creepy guy named Bruno who seems to know altogether too much about him. With the advent of the internet, you might be able to pass Bruno off as a lonely fanboy, but in the ’50s it would have been pretty hard for Bruno to come up with the personal info he knows about Guy. Not content to run away screaming for the police, Guy politely listens to Bruno’s psychotic ravings.
At some point, Guy offers Bruno a light, and Bruno notes the engraving indicating that it was a gift from Anne. This starts Bruno off on how unhappy Guy must be to still be married to the trampety-tramp, and he somewhat bluntly makes the following offer: We are strangers, and there’s no reason for anybody to know we’ve ever met. It’s nearly impossible to kill someone you know and get away with it, but a stranger? I’ll kill your wife, you kill my dad, and we’ll call it even. Needless to say, the ever-polite Guy is a bit off-put and finally hightails it out, accidentally leaving his lighter behind.
Guy makes a scheduled stop to deliver divorce papers to Miriam, shown here in her coke-bottle glasses which are used for more than just to disguise how smoking hot she is. Miriam, however, refuses to sign the papers for some vague and vengeful reason, then heads off to the Carnival with two (two! shocking!) boys. Fear not, however, because the Friday the 13th principle comes into play once again as Bruno, believing that Guy’s refusal to refuse the “criss-cross” murder offer is an acceptance, follows Miriam through the Tunnel Of Love to the Island Of Despair where he catches her alone after nightfall and strangles her to death in a scene snappily filmed through a reflection off of Miriam’s glasses, which are knocked off in the struggle. Then, after leaving the carnival, he helps a blind man cross the street. You know, just an average day in the life of Bruno Anthony.
Well, needless to say, by the time Guy arrives at the Senator’s house in Washington the news of Miriam’s death has outpaced him, and Guy finds himself in the position of pretty much knowing exactly what has happened.
Normally, the movie ends here, with Guy going to the police and telling them everything he knows. (Oddly enough, this was the second film of the night where the main character could have made things awfully easy by just telling the police what is going on.) But for some reason, Guy thinks…well, I don’t know what he thinks, but he doesn’t turn Bruno in. Meanwhile Bruno goes into full-on stalker mode trying to get Guy to reciprocate, and Guy, who has no alibi for the night in question because his only companion on the train to Washington was a professor too drunk to remember him (if only I had a nickel for every time that happened to me!), falls for Bruno’s story that the police would believe Bruno over Guy Haines, amateur tennis star.
But when Bruno crashes a party being held by the Senator, and in a memorable scene (set off by the coke-bottle glasses on Anne’s sister) half-strangles an old biddy preening about in the spotlight of his attention, Guy finally takes a step and pretends to agree to Bruno’s request. Already in possession of an architectural-quality blueprint of Bruno’s home, he sneaks in that night past a frightful watchdog and tiptoes his way to the father’s room. Once there, he wakes the father to warn him of Bruno’s scheme, but (dun-dun-DUNN!) instead of the old man, he finds Bruno in the bed instead, as the old man happened to choose that evening to leave town.
Needless to say, Bruno is upset at Guy’s betrayal, and sets about trying to pin the murder of Miriam on Guy. His scheme – to plant Guy’s lighter at the scene of the crime – is uncovered while Anne make an attempt to reason with Bruno, and Guy realizes that he must beat Bruno to the spot. However, he’s being tailed by a plainclothes cop (because he’s a murder suspect, natch) and he takes his only chance to escape in the crowd following a rousing amateur tennis victory in the aforementioned tournament.
He races to the carnival, followed by the police, and arrives in the nick of time to catch Bruno before he has a chance to plant the lighter. Following comes one of the more memorable scenes of movie history.
A chase ends up on a carousel, and somehow the carousel operator gets shot, falling against the “faster” lever and sending the carousel spinning out of control. Children fly off at odd angles, and Guy and Bruno fight to knock each other off while one boy, still clinging to his horsey, screams in joy at the ride. When the carousel finally disintegrates due to another carnival employee throwing the “disintegrate” switch, Bruno manages to be mortally wounded while Guy is unhurt. Despite Guy’s lucid exposition of Bruno’s plan to the police on the scene, they refuse to search the dying man for the lighter, simply because Bruno says he does not have it. (If only that worked at Customs: “No officer, I do not have two kilos of high-grade Colombian cocaine strapped to my underarms.” “Well, off you go, then!”) Happily for Guy, after Bruno dies but before rigor mortis can set in his hand relaxes to reveal (dun-dun-DUNN!) the lighter, and Guy is absolved. The end.
It should be noted that while the 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much lacked one of Hitchcock’s classic cameos, Strangers On A Train has one of the most memorable of all, a scene I had seen literally dozens of times without knowing it was from this film, where Hitchcock struggles to get a cello onto the train as Guy disembarks:
We finished off the evening with the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, starring Grace Kelly and the stuttering guy from It’s A Wonderful Life. The plot of Rear Window goes something like this:
The very beautiful socialite Grace Kelly (whose character, coincidentally, is named “Grace Kelly”) takes pity on a photojournalist who has broken his leg taking a photograph and has become housebound.
This photojournalist, whose name is Waldo, is difficult to find throughout the film and I am told later inspired the “Where’s Waldo?” series of children’s books.
For instance, in the above picture, we can see Grace Kelly bringing Waldo his medication. If you look carefully, you will find Waldo at the lower left of the picture.
Waldo has been driven clinically insane by his isolation in his apartment, and spends most of his time peering out of his rear window, taking pictures of people he sees across the way, and making up elaborate fantasies about their dealings.
Grace, out of sheer compassion and benevolence has decided upon marrying this Waldo guy, but because he is clinically insane he can’t imagine giving up a career in photojournalism to marry the second most beautiful woman in the world ever (behind Ingrid Bergman). Don’t worry, though, because shortly after Rear Window was released she ended up marrying a Prince, and by Prince I mean an honest-to-God Prince of the actual Principality of Monaco, so she turns out OK in the end.
Undeterred, Grace models the latest fashions for Waldo as he sinks deeper and deeper into his paranoid fantasies. Not that you can blame him, as he has nothing but THIS to look at all day
and spends most of his time turning down advances of marriage from, I repeat, the second most beautiful woman in the world ever. That should be enough for institutionalization on its own.
However, when Waldo concocts a fantasy that his neighbor Lars Thorwald has murdered his wife, Grace realizes that there have been some suspicious goings-on and begins to put the pieces of a murder mystery together.
Thorwald, shown above looking very suspicious, begins to exhibit unusual behavior once he realizes Grace has caught on.
Grace models yet another dress to throw Thorwald off, allowing her to see him making several unexplainable late night trips while his wife is allegedly “vacationing”.
Here, Grace dons a pearl necklace, and Thorwald is sufficiently distracted that she is able to watch him cleaning the blood off of a handsaw and a large butcher knife.
Meanwhile, Waldo does a fine job holding on to a pair of binoculars for Grace while she witnesses Thorwald packing up a heavy crate with his wife’s body.
Finally, Thorwald murders another neighbor’s dog for digging up his wife’s head, buried in a hatbox in the flowerbed. For Grace, a charter member of the ASPCA, this is the final straw, and she sets off to prove the murder of Thorwald’s wife.
Since Waldo is pretty much helpless, Grace enlists the help of his nurse to care for him while she breaks into Thorwald’s apartment to find the evidence she needs.
Just in case she is caught and perhaps killed in this daring attempt to catch a known murderer and a very dangerous man, she leaves behind a promotional still so that Waldo will always remember the woman he was stupid enough not to marry.
Grace, however, is practically perfect in every way, and cunningly finds Thorwald’s wife’s wedding ring. In retaliation, Thorwald comes to Waldo’s apartment looking for vengeance.
Thoughtfully, Grace leaves on a lamp so that Thorwald will not trip and hurt himself in Waldo’s messy apartment. In fact, it is crucial to Grace’s plan that Thorwald successfully navigate the apartment and throw Waldo out the upstairs window so that the police (whom she has helpfully brought to the scene) will arrest Thorwald.
It all goes swimmingly, and Grace gives Waldo a big kiss in exchange for getting a second broken leg in his fall from the window.
Then she lounges around in his apartment in jeans for a while, because she’s going to be a Princess soon and it’s going to be nothing but Christian Dior from that point onwards.
Here is Hitchcock’s Rear Window cameo, and that about does it for the recap of our Hitchcock marathon!