Movie Project #26: Rebecca [1940]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Rebecca [1940]

Rebecca [1940]
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Daphne Du Maurier (novel), Robert E. Sherwood (screen play), Joan Harrison (screen play), Philip MacDonald (adaptation), Michael Hogan (adaptation)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders
Running Time: 130 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is one of the most highly-regarded Hitchcock films that I still needed to see.

Accolades: Won two Oscars (Best Picture, Best B&W Cinematography) + 7 other nominations, #80 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills, #31 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains, #126 on IMDB Top 250

It still baffles me that out of Alfred Hitchcock’s distinguished reputation and extensive filmography, he never once won an Oscar for Best Director. In fact, Rebecca, his very first American film, is his only Best Picture winner. Despite its accolades, Rebecca always seems to somehow get lost in the shuffle. This certainly happened to me, as it is somewhere around the tenth Hitchcock film I have seen. Make no mistake — this is a fantastic film that deserves to be mentioned among his best.

Rebecca tells the story of a young woman (Joan Fontaine), never identified by name, who works as a paid companion of a wealthy businesswoman (Florence Bates). While accompanying her boss on vacation in Monte Carlo, the young woman meets a lonely aristocratic widow named Maximilian de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Despite obvious differences in class and social stigma, the two hit it off, and Maxim invites her to go back to his glorious mansion, Manderley. Within just a couple of weeks, the two are married.

Rebecca [1940]

The new Mrs. de Winter has seemed to reinvigorate Maxim with a new outlook on life, but she is constantly under pressure in Manderley. The presence of Maxim’s past wife, Rebecca, is everywhere. Her former bedroom is still sealed shut, left exactly as it was when she passed on in a mysterious boating accident. Pictures and memorabilia from the deceased are everywhere in the estate, and the servants frequently remark on how wonderful Rebecca was.

The worst offender is the lead housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson). She is seemingly still obsessed with Rebecca, and her unwelcoming demeanor consistently puts the new bride on edge. There’s something off-putting about this long-time resident, though exactly what it is doesn’t become apparent until the final act.

Now, as someone who has seen nearly a dozen Hitchcock films, I should have expected a twist. Yet ol’ Hitch managed to pull a fast one on me here. After what appears to be a fairly straightforward gothic melodrama about a blossoming (but struggling) relationship in the first act, the film goes in a completely different direction. Secrets are revealed, motivations are announced, and back stories told. This eventually culminates in a fiery conclusion that again feels strikingly different from the rest of the film.

Rebecca [1940]

Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson all received Oscar nominations for their performances. While Olivier is certainly memorable in this, it is the two ladies that truly impress. Fontaine is the typical Hitchcock leading blonde, but she perfectly displays the naivete of someone completely out of her element, yet one who also wants to make the best of her new situation. Anderson’s performance is ice cold, and her character’s evil nature earned inclusion in AFI’s 100 Villains list.

Rebecca is not the type of thriller that Hitchcock would later become known for, but it is a haunting mystery that effortlessly managed to keep me guessing throughout. While the director would perfect his craft in later years, this is still an excellent film that is more than deserving of its accolades.

9/10

Poll Results: Favorite Cary Grant Film

North by Northwest

THE RESULTS:
– North by Northwest: 10 votes
– Notorious: 8 votes
– Arsenic and Old Lace: 5 votes
– Charade: 4 votes
– Only Angels Have Wings: 3 votes
– His Girl Friday: 2 votes
– To Catch a Thief: 2 votes
– Bringing Up Baby: 1 vote
– The Philadelphia Story: 1 vote
– Suspicion: 1 vote

No surprise to see Hitchcock films go 1-2 here, but I would have pegged His Girl Friday to be ranked higher. Nice to see ten different films get votes though!

This Week’s Poll: This year’s Emmy nominations were announced last week. While there were a number of questionable nominations (see Sati’s post for the most glaring omissions), they seemed to hit most of the major players for Outstanding Drama. This week’s question is: what is your favorite show that was nominated for this year’s Outstanding Drama?

Have a great week, folks!

Poll Results: Best Alfred Hitchcock Film

And the winner for best Hitchcock film is:

Psycho

THE RESULTS:
– Psycho: 13 votes
– Rear Window: 10 votes
– Vertigo: 9 votes
– The Birds: 6 votes
– North by Northwest: 5 votes
– Notorious: 3 votes
– Rope: 3 votes
– Dial M for Murder: 1 vote
– Frenzy: 1 vote
– Rebecca: 1 vote
– Strangers on a Train: 1 vote

No surprise to see Psycho at #1, but how about the “greatest film of all time”, Vertigo, finishing third? Found that to be a bit interesting. Other than that, nice to see a good variety in votes, with two of my personal favorites, Notorious and Rope, getting mentioned.

This Week’s Poll: This weekend saw the release of Olympus Has Fallen, an action movie in which the US President is kidnapped by terrorists. While I have yet to see this film, it got me thinking about past movie portrayals of the President. There are countless performances that fit the bill, both based on real Presidents and fictional ones. Which performance do you consider the best in film? This is a pick two, so feel free to vote for two options if you want.

Have a great week everyone!

Poll Results: Best Sam Raimi Film

This one came down to the last day, but we ended up with another tie:

Army of DarknessArmy of Darkness

THE RESULTS:
– Army of Darkness: 8 votes
– Spider-Man 2: 8 votes
– The Evil Dead: 7 votes
– Evil Dead II: 6 votes
– Spider-Man: 5 votes
– A Simple Plan: 2 votes
– Drag Me to Hell: 2 votes
– Oz the Great and Powerful: 2 votes
– The Quick and the Dead: 1 vote
– Crimewave: 0 votes
– Darkman: 0 votes
– For Love of the Game: 0 votes
– Spider-Man 3: 0 votes
– The Gift: 0 votes

I must say I am a little surprised to see Army of Darkness at the top. I know it has a large cult following, but I didn’t fall in love with it like I did Evil Dead 1&2. Also interesting to note that Oz the Great and Powerful is already receiving votes — guess I should check that one out, eh?

This Week’s Poll: Now here’s a question I am surprised I didn’t ask before. It’s another pick two: What is Alfred Hitchcock’s best film? I could have easily went with a pick three or four here due to the size of the man’s filmography, but we’ll stick to the usual. What will you be voting for? The newly-christened “greatest film of all time”, Vertigo? The timeless horror classic, Psycho? How about often-overlooked classics like Notorious or Rope? Let’s hear your thoughts!

Have a great week everyone!

Movie Project #39: Notorious [1946]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Notorious [1946]

Notorious [1946]
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Film Noir/Romance/Thriller
Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains
Runtime: 101 minutes

Seeing an Alfred Hitchcock film for the first time is always an exciting experience. Last year, I witnessed a handful with fresh eyes, including the fantastic Vertigo and Psycho (both for this project). For this year’s project, I included another of his most highly-regarded films: Notorious.

Released in Hitchcock’s first decade in America, Notorious is a post-war thriller with film noir elements that also happens to provide one of cinema’s most intriguing love stories. Cary Grant stars as T.R. Devlin, a secret agent who is an important figure in a plan to infiltrate a Nazi organization that has relocated to Rio de Janeiro. In order to do so, the government enlists the help of Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy. While privately against the Nazi beliefs, she still has ties to those in Brazil, and she is sent to seduce their leader, Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains). Her commitment to the job is unparalleled, but there is a wrench in their plans: Devlin and Alicia fall madly in love with each other.

Notorious [1946]

This love triangle leads to some tense moments, as Alicia is asked to do things that were not part of the original plan. She is also tasked with riding that delicate balance between acting in love with Sebastian while still attempting to discover intel about the Nazi operations. Devlin does his best to remain detached, trying not to mix love and his work, and never flat out saying “I love you.” But when your love interest is Ingrid f’n Bergman, it’s hard to stay in check.

There are several noteworthy scenes in Notorious, including many that rank amongst Hitchcock’s most suspenseful. One unforgettable sequence happens at a huge party at the Nazi headquarters. Alicia has stolen a key to the wine cellar, where she is to lead Devlin in hopes of uncovering a secret to the organization’s operations. Everything is going well until the hosts begin running low on alcohol upstairs. Sebastian and an associate start heading downstairs at the same time Devlin and Alicia are investigating the cellar. The suspense builds as the chances of a successful escape grow very slim.

The film’s conclusion is also thrilling, including one of the slowest descents down a staircase that I have ever seen.

Notorious [1946]

Despite being nearly 70 years old, Notorious holds up remarkably well today. The story, while taking place shortly after World War II, is a timeless tale of espionage and romance. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are a fantastic pairing, two gorgeous Hollywood A-listers with strong chemistry. Claude Rains adds a great deal to the film as well, delivering a performance that somehow makes the audience sympathize with the plights of a Nazi.

It’s a bit shocking that Notorious only received two Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) and Best Original Screenplay (Ben Hecht). Then again, Hitchcock’s lack of support from the Academy is well-known (he never won for Best Director). Regardless of these oversights, Notorious ranks among his best work, and it is easily one of my favorites from this year’s project. This deserves to be mentioned when others talk about the director’s more popular and critically-acclaimed work (i.e. Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, etc.).

9/10

Movie Project #18 and #19: The Exorcist [1973] and Vertigo [1958]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Also, I am quite a bit ahead in this Movie Project at the moment, so I am going to be doing more 2-for-1 specials until I get caught up all the way. The project has been a blast so far, but it has become quite exhaustive to write full posts about each film. Hope you guys don’t mind!

The Exorcist [1973, Friedkin]
The Exorcist [1973, Friedkin]
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair

No idea what took me so long to finally watch this horror classic. I have had so many people tell me that this is the scariest movie ever made, and many friends refused to even watch it with me because of this. Something about demons and possessed children really gets under the skin, eh?

I liked the movie well enough, though I didn’t find it scary at all. I found The Exorcist to be more disturbing than anything — that little girl sure did some fucked up shit! Perhaps some of the effect has worn off due to all of the pop culture references over the years — there were a few scenes that I was quite familiar with beforehand, despite never having seen the film.

It took me a little bit to really get into the movie due to its slow pacing, but I feel that this helped with the character development. I cared about the characters, especially since the actors played them so convincingly. It was a real treat to see Ellen Burstyn this young, as I had previously only seen her in more recent titles such as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain.

While not necessarily “scary”, The Exorcist still holds up today as a great film.

8/10

Vertigo [1958]
Vertigo [1958, Hitchcock]
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes

Man, I love Hitchcock. As I continue to move through his filmography, I become more and more impressed. The man knew how to tell a story while keeping the suspense growing and growing.

With Vertigo, James Stewart delivers another brilliant performance, this time starring as Scottie Ferguson, a police detective with a terrible fear of heights. After recovering from a tragic accident that left his partner dead, Scottie is hired to investigate an old friend’s wife (Kim Novak), who has been walking around as if in some bizarre type of trance. As he follows her around, the detective becomes obsessed with the woman, taking an unhealthy liking to her. Then, of course, in typical Hitchcock fashion, there’s a huge plot twist about halfway through that changes the course of the film.

What ultimately takes place is a dark and haunting love story, one that shows one man’s obsession with something he cannot have. The depths that Scottie goes to accomplish his dream are frightening, and at times it seems the only sane character is his friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes).

In short, this is another fantastic psychological thriller from the master of suspense, and it’s easy to see why it is always recognized as one of Hitchcock’s finest. From Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score to the wonderful plot twists and turns, Vertigo is exceptional.

9/10

Movie Project #16: Psycho [1960]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Psycho [1960]

Psycho [1960]
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Horror/Mystery/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

When I was in high school, I tried to catch up on some movies that I had missed out on (a slightly less focused version of what I am doing now). On one trip to the video store (remember those?), I walked out with Psycho, excited to see one of my first Hitchcock films. Unfortunately, I grabbed Gus Van Sant’s 1998 critically-maligned remake by mistake. I watched it anyway, and sure enough it was terrible. I am glad now, many years later, that I have FINALLY seen the original classic. And yes, it is eons better than Van Sant’s ill-advised remake.

Psycho is home to many iconic cinematic moments. The brilliantly manipulated opening credit sequence, Bernard Herrmann’s frantic score, and Anthony Perkins’ legendary performance as Norman Bates. Oh, and of course, the much-referenced (and parodied) shower scene.

Psycho [1960] - shower scene

The movie is almost a tale of two stories. The first part focuses on Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary who spontaneously decides to steal $40,000 from one of her employer’s clients while on the way to the bank. She quickly hits the road and becomes paranoid of everything and everyone, especially a police officer who stops her and makes note of her awkward behavior. After crossing into California, heavy rain becomes a major issue, and Marion pulls over to the nearest lodge: the Bates Motel.

This is where she meets the socially awkward Norman Bates (Perkins), who happily provides her with one of the twelve vacant rooms. Something doesn’t seem right with him, but he appears harmless to Marion. Unfortunately for her, this is where she meets her demise in the unforgettable shower scene.

The second part of the movie follows the investigation of Marion’s disappearance. A private detective (Martin Balsam) is hired by her employer to find out what she was up to, and he eventually heads out to the motel after consulting with Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) and her lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin). It doesn’t take much for them to figure out that Marion was at the Bates Motel, and suspicions arise about Norman and his mother, who lives in the house nearby. It’s clear that something shady happened.

The iconic Bates Motel

Of course, Psycho’s plot is something most are familiar with. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still could often feel my heart racing throughout the film. This is a tense, suspenseful ride that is thrilling even today.

So yeah, Anthony Perkins is absolutely incredible as Norman. This is a career-defining performance if I’ve ever seen one. His stuttering, his twitching, his all-around awkwardness just feels natural. He seems like a decent guy at first, just socially inept with obvious mental issues. While the supporting cast generally deliver strong performances as well, this is very much Perkins’ show.

A thriller in every sense of the word, Psycho is more than worthy of its legendary status. This is easily one of the most influential movies of all time, and the character of Norman Bates is one of the most memorable of any type of film. I wish I had never seen the remake, especially before this, but it was still interesting to compare the two. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is my favorite Hitchcock (I have Rope and Rear Window pegged slightly ahead), it still ranks up there with the best.

9/10