Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

"People don't commit murder on credit."

Tonight Raz and I went to the Ziegfeld for the last week of their "Hollywood Classics" series, tonight to see two Alfred Hitchcock films from 1954 which starred Grace Kelly, the brain-twisting Dial M for Murder (flat print only, not 3-D, unfortunately) and one of the all-time masterpieces of cinema Rear Window.

C.A. Swan

Smart, aren't you?

Tony Wendice

No, not really. I've just had time to think things out. Put myself in your position. That's why I know you're going to agree.

C.A. Swan

What makes you think I'll agree?

Tony Wendice

For the same reason that a donkey with a stick behind him and a carrot in front always goes forwards and not backwards.

C.A. Swan

Tell me about the carrot.


She sure is the "eat, drink and be merry" girl.


Yeah, she'll wind up fat, alcoholic and miserable.

There's no way around it, Dial M for Murder is a great little mindfuck, playing with the viewer's brain like it was made of Play-Doh. I can't imagine how such Frederick Knott's wicked little chestnut could have been remade so blandly as A Perfect Murder (Michael Douglas is no Ray Milland, that's for damn sure). Hitch's understanding of how suspense works in the cinematic medium allows it to pull the audience in and then play with their loyalties constantly.

Ray Milland is most engaging as the scheming husband, but also of note is John Williams (not the composer nor the guitarist) who plays a crafty Chief Inspector Hubbard ("They talk about flat-footed policemen. May the saints protect us from the gifted amateur"). This character is of a similar cast to Alec McCowen's entertaining Oxford in Hitch's penultimate film (and what is often considered his final masterpiece) Frenzy. I have to mention that the movie has one of those awful Dimitri Tiomkin scores that works its damndest to either overstate everything or undercut any dramatic tension. Happily, the film is good enough that it transcends its weak scoring, and if you didn't know that the film was supposed to be in 3-D, you wouldn't know.

Rear Window, however, is a film that not only brings into question various aspects of the nature of cinema, but also human behavior and the process of voyeurism itself. Cinema is often a perfect tool to explore scopophilia because the viewer is capable of watching activities without any fear of being caught. The central theme of Rear Window, however, turns the tables on voyeurism by placing an avatar for the viewer in the film itself; the protagonist L. B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair and is therefore (like the audience) a passive observer of what is going on. As Jeff views (an act motivated by boredom), he begins to create a story out of what he sees.

It is not so much that cinema is voyeuristic, Hitch postulates; instead, voyeurism is inherent in narrative. That is to say that storytelling as a function of the human being is in and of itself a scopophilial act. When Thorwald (Raymond Burr) realizes he's being watched, the information is presented in a point-of-view shot; when he looks at Jeff, he's looking at us. After all, Hitch asks, why did you go to see this movie if not to get the dirt on something personal and if possible unsavory? As Doyle (Wendell Corey) points out when Jeff asks if he can explain everything that's going in Thorwald's apartment, "No, and neither can you. That's a secret, private world you're looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private they couldn't possibly explain in public." The statement is cautionary, but it is also, unavoidably, enticing as well.

I also want to mention that Grace Kelly's first appearance in this film was nothing short of breathtaking on the big screen. It has always had an erotic magic to it, but in a film that is so much about observing that which is private, it is extremely fitting that her character would be introduced in such an intimate moment. Of course, Jeff doesn't really start to really fall in love with Lisa until she has entered into his narrative (when he makes her into an image), a theme in Hitch's work that would find perhaps its apothesis in an Orphic mode in Vertigo.

Special mention needs to be made of Thelma Ritter's presence in the film. Her character Stella is just pure entertainment.
Tags: alfred hitchcock, cinema, movie moments

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