It is cold outside. Or better: it’s freezing. And I don’t like to be cold, nor do I like anything to be cold. Least of all the weather when I have to get up in the morning and go to work. Give me cold, crispy air on a prolonged weekend I can spend in bed. Now that’s my kind of cold. That I can live with. Especially when I can wrap myself in a cozy blanket, have food in bed, enjoy a pot of hot tea and have a pile of films or a new TV show to binge-watch. Of course, I have some favorites but new gems always find a way on my shelves in mysterious ways. So here it is, my list of recommendations for anyone who, like yours truly, is in touch with her inner bear and craves to hibernate in a comfy cave. Don’t give freezer burn a chance and enjoy a good flick instead!
Talkie of the Week: Spellbound
USA 1945, 111 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Alfred Hitchcock, Written by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht, Based on the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by Hilary Saint George Saunders and Francis Beeding. Cast: Ingrid Berman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Steven Geray, Paul Harvey, Donald Curtis, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Regis Toomey.
Plot summary: When Dr. Edwardes arrives at Green Manors, levelheaded Dr. Petersen is spellbound by the new hospital director who has a secret she is determined to uncover.
Review: Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is the sole female doctor at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermont. Among her colleagues, she is known as efficient and detached, an image she sheds upon arrival of new hospital director Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck). Edwardes is charming but also struggles with a phobia his esteemed colleague finds conspicuous: he gets upset whenever he spots dark, parallel lines on a white background. Despite her ulterior instincts, Dr. Petersen is attracted to the handsome doctor who has a secret she is determined to uncover and thus solve the mystery of his phobia.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound was produced by David Selznick, a collaboration that didn’t turn out as fruitful as initially intended. For their third common production, Selznick brought in his own psychoanalyst to turn the plot into a puff piece on therapy and celebrate his own positive experiences. Hitchcock, however, known for his independent streak, frequently butted heads with the interfering analyst and hired Salvador Dali to add an intriguing touch of surrealism to his now famous dream sequence. Originally almost twenty minutes long, the scene was eventually cut down by Selznick and has only been available in its edited form since the release of the film in 1945.
Shot as a mystical thriller with a captivating storyline about mental illness, Spellbound was successful upon release. Rewarded with an Academy Ward for Best Score and five additional nominations, the film was popular with movie goers and critics alike, and is still entertaining on DVD and Blu-ray today. Blessed with a suspenseful plot and two haunting leads, the film has what it takes to keep its audience on the edge of their seats and continues to be one of Hitchcock’s mid-career treats.
Talkie of the Week: Rear Window
USA 1954, 112 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Alfred Hitchcock, Written by John Michael Hayes, Based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story “It Had to Be Murder”. Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey and Raymond Burr.
Plot summary: Stuck in his apartment in a wheel chair, photographer L.B. Jeffries enjoys sitting by his his rear window to entertain himself with the everyday lives of his neighbors until he starts suspecting one of them of murder.
Review: New York, 1954. Photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is trapped at home, tied to a wheel chair and deprived of his usual excitation. An independent spirit whose professional life is filled with danger and adventure, he is bored out of his wits sitting in his tiny apartment with a broken leg. Secluded from the outside world apart from his daily visitors Lisa (Grace Kelly) and nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), he has found solace in the repetitive lives of his colorful neighbors. Nicknaming them according to their behavior, Jeff comments on the patterns he has made out in five weeks of impudently observing them. Although chided by his visitors at first for peeking into the private affairs of complete strangers, his guilty pleasure soon becomes an addiction for him as much as to his acquaintances, leading to revelations about well-kept secrets and a possible murder.
Detached in the beginning and cynical, Jimmy Stewart’s performance is reliable as always, his character strangely intangible despite his rough, likable charm. By his side, Grace Kelly shines in her lovely dresses, her beauty set up to stun rather than her performance. Thelma Ritter delivers her lines with a genuine twinkle in her eye, bringing a lightness to an atmosphere of restraint and suspense while Wendell Corey adds to a feeling of increasing trepidation. Blessed with a stellar cast of supporting actors who work together like a beautiful composition of New York neighbors, it is Raymond Burr who stands out with his performance as murder suspect Lars Thorwald. From the distance, he seems unspectacular and vulnerable, a character broken by life. When we finally see his face and hear him speak, it is his voice that is the biggest surprise – for a moment, he leaves us wondering about the person behind a man we suspect of having committed a cruel crime. He sounds helpless somehow and weak, his questions coming across like a plea before his calm turns into violence and he becomes intimidating again to say the least.
Using the suspense and excitement of voyeurism, Rear Window was further refined by a memorable set and popular music, guaranteeing the film a place in the National Film Registry in 1997. Shot in color and based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich from 1942, the film is still on the must-see list of any film buff who enjoys Hollywood’s Golden Age and has the potential to make a frequent guest appearance in your home. As one of Hitchcock’s most celebrated masterpieces, Rear Window was gripping upon release and remains suspenseful today, on DVD, in reruns or on Blu-ray.
TV classics: Alfred Hitchcock Presents
USA 1955-62, 268 episodes, 25 minutes each, CBS and NBC. Presented by Alfred Hitchcock, Cast examples: Julie Adams, Gene Barry, Barbara Bel Geddes, Charles Bronson, Tom Conway, Joseph Cotten, Anne Francis, Rosemary Harris, Patricia Hitchcock, Brian Keith, Werner Klemperer, Wesley Lau, Steve McQueen, Leslie Nielsen, John Qualen, William Shatner, Nita Talbot, Jessica Tandy, Dick York et al.
Plot summary: In this anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock presented new mysteries on a weekly basis, always introduced by a comment from the master of suspense himself.
Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the many successful anthology series of the 1950s and 60s, hosted by Alfred Hitchcock who commented on the weekly stories in the beginning and at the end of each episode. Often welcoming his audience with a friendly “Good Evening”, the master of suspense was a pivotal part of the show for which he caricatured his own silhouette to appear in the title credits. Although praised as Hollywood’s best directors, Hitchcock did not direct more than seventeen episodes of the original show and only one of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour which was produced for another three years after the completion of his half-hour original in 1962.
Focusing on murder, mayhem and mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock Presents had a more constricted theme for its episodes than the majority of other anthology programs, something his famous name already suggested. Always relying on suspense, a decent cast and excellent scripts, the show lived up to be one of the 100 most popular shows on TV and was rewarded with several Emmy nominations including two for the renowned director himself. Successfully rerun for many years, a re-imagined show, The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, brought more crime to American living rooms in 1985, a popular time for revivals of popular black & white franchises.
Today, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is available on DVD and online to be enjoyed by old fans and new ones alike. Still gripping and entertaining, the episodes are a treat for everyone who enjoys great storytelling and ironic or deadpan comments on sometimes gruesome yet never horrific cases. As the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock was celebrated for his skills to seduce his audience into witnessing upsetting circumstances without haunting them with gory images. His approach was reflected in this show and still offers many hours of first class diversion – a true gem to rediscover on a rainy Sunday afternoon.