December 2011

 

Hitchcock Is Hot (part 1)

I’ve got a treat for you today. Some lovely clips from films by one of my fave film directors, Alfred Hitchcock.

MFTdec11-5When I was growing up, my parents were great fans of Alfred Hitchcock. Which I think says a great deal for my parents’ taste! Hitchcock was blessed to be working at the same time as so many wonderful actors of the golden age of Hollywood. His preferred leading men were Cary Grant and James Stewart. He loved icy blondes who concealed fiery passion within. Grace Kelly. Ingrid Bergman. Eva Marie Saint. Stunningly beautiful women all.

The first film I remember seeing by Hitchcock was in a double at a local drive-in (which dates this particular reminiscence) with Born Free. It was 1959’s North By Northwest (quite a contrast to lovely Elsa the lioness loping across the veldt). I remember being really scared by the crop duster scene where it’s Cary Grant loping across a dusty cornfield.  Watching it again, it’s still really creepy and isn’t it a masterly stroke of direction that there’s no music so the crescendo and diminuendo of that engine plays on the viewer’s nerves? And Cary Grant’s! Speaking of the music, I think this is one of Bernard Hermann’s best scores – really spiky and rhythmic. This is a film I’ve seen several times since – there’s a marvellous romance between Eva Marie Saint, the baddie’s mistress, and Cary with some very steamy byplay in a restricted train compartment. And James Mason makes a wonderfully slimy villain!

MFTdec11-1Hitchcock did some really sexy films. I couldn’t talk about his films without including the famous kiss scene from 1946’s Notorious. The production code imposed a time limit on kisses so Hitchcock got around it by having lots of short kisses, resulting in this wonderful sequence. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s set during World War II and Ingrid has a bad reputation as a party girl. Not only that, her dad is a Nazi. Cary has recruited her as a spy and intends to infiltrate her into the circle of Nazi sympathisers in Rio. He’s basically pimping her out to Claude Rains, something that adds an extra zing of darkness and conflict to the romance. Watch Cary’s face as he tries really hard to resist her and watch the subtle signs that he just can’t. Oh, the angst!

MFTdec11-2Another of my favorite Hitchcock films – and another featuring a passionate romance and the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman – is 1945’s Spellbound. I think the surreal elements that depict psychological disturbance have dated badly, especially a grotesque dream sequence by Salvador Dali that was highly touted at the time. But the love story between Gregory Peck playing an amnesiac possible- murderer and Ingrid playing an icy psychiatrist who finds herself well and truly melted when she falls in love is fantastic. And of course, there’s the continual rumble of disquiet – who is Gregory Peck really? And is he a murderer? And why does he keep going ape every time he sees dark lines on a white background? Hitchcock never makes it easy for his lovers which is one of the reasons I love his films. A romance writer can learn a stack about sexual tension and conflict watching these movies.

Anyway, here’s a breathtakingly romantic scene from Spellbound where Ingrid still thinks Gregory is the new director of the mental hospital where she works, instead of a handsome loony who has no idea who he is.

Oh, be still my beating heart. “This afternoon it was like lightning striking. It strikes rarely.” You can hardly blame Ingrid for going weak at the knees, can you?

I had intended to talk about a few more Hitchcock films but I might extend the pleasure into next month. Tune in next month for HITCHCOCK IS HOT PART DEUX!