Alfred Hitchcock Presents

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.

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His Girl Friday

Talkie of the Week: His Girl Friday

USA 1940, 92 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Howard Hawks, Written by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall, Ernest Truex, Cliff Edwards, Clarence Kolb, Roscoe Karns, Frank Jenks, Regis Toomey, Abner Biberman, Frank Orth, John Qualen and Helen Mack

Plot summary: Editor-in-chief Walter is used to getting his way until his ex-wife Hildy returns to New York to get married to an insurance man from Albany who will take her away from the newspaper business.

Review: His Girl Friday is a fast paced screwball comedy directed and produced by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the 1940 adaptation was altered by the playwrights themselves and additional screenwriter Charles Lederer. Russell’s Hildy Johnson, originally male on stage, was turned into a quick-witted female reporter who is trying to get away from her ex-husband and editor-in-chief Walter Burns, played by Cary Grant.

Living on smart and funny dialog, His Girl Friday paints the breathless world of newspaper journalism in a time that’s long gone. It creates the myth of the ruthless editor-in-chief and his go-get-it attitude who would do anything to keep his star reporter from quitting her job. Cary Grant was an ingenious casting choice for the slick Morning Post chief who’s always cooking up a new idea to delay his ex-wife’s departure and wedding plans – Grant’s undying energy has the potential to leave the audience out of breath they get so caught up following his schemes. Rosalind Russell did an equally impressive job, slowly falling for her ex’ cabals although she smelled the rat behind his motives right from the start. Matching wit with her former husband and employer, she also easily outshines her new desired prey: fiancĂ© Bruce Baldwin, a simple-minded insurance agent from upstate New York, brilliantly played by Ralph Bellamy. The restaurant banter between ex-wife, her husband-to-be and former spouse is one of the best scenes in the entire movie. But there are many more memorable and over-the-top moments a good screwball movie needs.

If you enjoy these kinds of comedies, this classic is a definite must-see for you. You’ll rarely stop chuckling about Grant’s and Russell’s entertaining repartee and the story itself has the quality to make you come back to this movie again and again.

Available on DVD, youtube and Hulu.

Wife vs. Secretary

Talkie of the Week: Wife vs. Secretary

USA 1936, 88 minutes, black & white, MGM. Director: Clarence Brown, Written by Faith Baldwin, Norman Krasna, John Lee Mahin, Alice Duer Miller. Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, May Robson, George Barbier, Hobart Cavanaugh, John Qualen

Plot summary: Van is happily married to Linda until she suspects her husband of having an affair with his gem of a secretary called Whitey.

Review: Wife vs. Secretary is a stellar film with a stellar cast. Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy and James Stewart in one movie – the names alone promise a good eighty-eight minutes of excellent entertainment. And if you enjoy the work and style of only one of these Hollywood legends you won’t be disappointed.

As the leading man of this heavyweight ensemble, Clark Gable carries the basic storyline without any trouble. He’s charming, sympathetic and looks innocently guilty when he faces his celluloid wife and secretary. Jean Harlow is Whitey, Gable’s beautiful office gem who goes beyond her usual sensual poise and charm. She is capable, willing and able, but on a much different note than Loy’s Linda or the audience may assume. Myrna Loy is a wonderful counterpart to Harlow’s peppy character: she’s sophisticated and full of trust until her husband starts telling lies. She’s the perfect loving wife who’s scorned when the gossip seems to match the truth. And her scenes with Jean Harlow spark of the fireworks that go much deeper than any of those contemporary cat fights. The two actresses show class and composure, wittily supported by a subtle script and a beautiful wardrobe. James Stewart adds additional spice to this mix of salt, pepper and chili. He plays Whitey’s boyfriend who’s honest and nice to the bones. He stands for the direct opposite of Van Stanhope’s (Clark Gable) world of big business, fancy dinner parties and a spoiled life. He’s a decent character who offers Whitey a simple but  righteous life.

To sum it up, Wife vs. Secretary is a well-rounded film that never leaves you bored. The storyline is hilarious but doesn’t miss to delve into a moment of poignancy. The dialogs are concise and mildly suggestive, much to the benefit of the spirit and tone of the film. The movie rarely goes over the top but always keeps its characters believable and likable, leaving the audience undecided about who to side with until the very end.

Wife vs. Secretary is a brilliant showcase for the talents of its three leading actors, James Stewart in one of his early roles and an excellent supporting cast. It is the right kind of film to cheer you up on a lazy Sunday afternoon or a perfect addition to a movie marathon of classics led by two of Golden Hollywood’s most memorable women. And although the versus in the title suggests competition, it is the way those two leading ladies work together that makes this movie really great.

Available on DVD. Wife vs. Secretary trailer