I just got back from a run(more of a asthma-walk really), spilt almost an entire bottle of water of my desk chair and I'm watching Casino Royale. Can you honestly think of a better time to write than right now? Anyway, a few weeks ago I posted a column about the classic pairing of Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. It's rare to see several collaborations between a great actor and an equally great director. So, in what is the second in my "connections" format, I picked an actor/director duo that rivals any tandem in film history. I give you my take on the films made by James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock.
Stewart and Hitchcock's first film together was based on the true story of two college students who committed murder for the experience. The movie is a little different. Rope is the story of two college kids who murder their friend after being inspired by their professor's theory that murder should be allowed for the ruling class. The two boys strangle their friend(guess what with) and stuff his body into a chest. They do so after inviting his girlfriend, parents and the college professor(Stewart) to a dinner party in which the food is served on top of the chest. You will not find a more morbid plot in 1940's cinema.
Along with brilliant dialogue, the set is what plays a huge role in the film. The entire movie takes place in virtually three rooms. Through just about the entire movie the murdered boy's coffin can be seen as a dinner party of his closest friends and family socialize. It's a brilliant concept. Stewart is amazing as a man who must see his idea of humanity's worth put to the ultimate test. For the first time in his career you see immense rawness.
Rear Window is one of greatest movies ever. You will forever see it appear on "greatest lists". I know it's on mine. Rear Window is the story of an injured newspaper photographer who spies on his neighbors from his apartment window. While playing voyeur he sees many of his neighbor's activities. He witnesses a blonde bombshell(old movie column, what do want?), a lonely old maid, but mostly, he begins to believe one of his neighbors has murdered his wife. Stewart enlists the help of his socialite girlfriend(Grace Kelley) and his nurse(Thelma Ritter) while he searches for proof from his apartment window.
As is the case in most of his great films, Hitchcock uses his set to full advantage. Stewart has view of his entire apartment complex through an amazingly elaborate set. While Rear Window isn't the intense thriller of some of their later collaborations, Stewart and Hitchcock seem to find the balance between comedy and suspense to create one of the most entertaining movies you'll ever see.
The Man Who Knew Too Much
By far the low end of Stewart and Hitchcock's four films, but The Man Who Knew Too Much is by no means bad. In fact, in Hitchcock's British film days in the 1930's he managed to make a better film with the same title. His 1950's offering starred James Stewart and Doris Day as a married couple on vacation in Africa with their son when they fall into a international murder plot. Stewart and Day must stop at nothing to uncover the plot and save their now kidnapped son.
When you look at the other three films made by Stewart and Hitchcock this one is a little puzzling. Each of the other films are rooted in vast psychological plots. The Man Who Knew Too Much isn't much more than a popcorn movie. In Rope, Rear Window and the soon to be discussed Vertigo, the two aim for greatness and achieve such. So, by default, The Man Who Knew Too Much is the odd movie out. It's an entertaining flick, but the fails to have that timeless quality that the rest of the Stewart/Hitchcock films have in spades.
With my "connection" column of Bogart and Huston we had The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Well, with Hitch and Stewart, Vertigo is their masterpiece. The amazing thing is that while both men led as rich of careers in film as anyone ever will, both men's best work lies in Vertigo. Vertigo tells the story of a policeman(Stewart) who falls under the affliction of vertigo when a fellow officer falls to his death on rooftop chase. Months after the accident Stewart is doing much of nothing when an old friend asks him to investigate his wife's strange behavior. While following the wife(played by the ever-depressed Kim Novak), Stewart falls in love with her. What follows is a brilliant tale of deceit and murder.
As I said, this is, in my opinion, James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock's best work. That stems from that in Vertigo Hitchcock creates one of the all-time mindfu#ks. You will not find too many better endings in any movie. It's never a happy tale and that's what might make it ever so poetic. Oh, and James Stewart just happens to give his greatest performance in a career filled with nothing but. I've wrote about his performance in this movie before and the word that always pops in my head is "raw".
James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock made four films together. All four fall into the suspense genre and three remain among the best in that genre nearly 60 years after the release of their first film together. Alfred Hitchcock also had a very successful working relationship with Cary Grant, but it's his collaborations with Stewart that are his best. Hitchcock's standout films with Grant tended to be more action/adventure oriented. His Stewart films went deeper into the psyche of human inefficiencies. For anyone that wants to talk about film with anything more than the due respect level of people who waited in line to see The Transformers, these are films you must have seen and respected. Rope, Rear Window and Vertigo are a part of the fabric of what great movies are.
Don't you just hate elitists?
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Andy is a life long movie fanatic. The first movie he saw in the theater was Back to the Future, Part 2 at the age of 3 and he has loved movies ever since.|
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