I’ll let you in on a little secret. Even though Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, his “Dial M For Murder” is the one movie of his that, more often than not, puts me to sleep.
Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, but to me, this is a film that doesn’t deliver any thrills. In fact, “A Perfect Murder,” the excellent 1998 remake of “Dial M For Murder,” which stars Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen, has more suspense in its opening tracking shot than the entirety of Hitchcock’s movie, even taking into consideration the manner in which he delivers the attempted murder sequence.
I think the film lacks energy and a sense of urgency. Does it have something to do with the fact that, although it was shot in 3D, but has rarely if ever been shown in 3D, the visual flatness of a non-3D two dimensional viewing serves to act as a barrier to being alert?
Yes, I have managed to stay awake on some occasions, but mostly I find “Dial M For Murder” boring. One thing working against the picture is that Robert Cummings is woefully miscast as the affable tennis player and potential love interest for Grace Kelly.
I bring this up because during the recent Christmas Blizzard of 2022, I spent my time watching all of Hitchcock’s color features from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
Not only did I have two full days of snowy cinema nirvana, due to our collective communal requirement to stay indoors, but I was also able to add more viewing time because for another day I couldn’t leave my house. The front and back doors were completely blocked with snow. My brother-in-law John Meer Jr. rescued me from that interesting experience by clearing the snow from my front porch on one day. He then came back the next day to clear a narrow path from the front door to the street with his snowblower. A couple of days later, he returned and completely cleared my driveway.
Of course, I’ve seen all of Hitchcock’s films many times, some of them dozens upon dozens of times whether in college, at festivals, during repertory programs in theaters, or on DVD. I arbitrarily decided not to watch the five black and white releases: “Stage Fright” (1950), the masterpiece “Strangers On A Train” (1951), “I, Confess” (1953), “The Wrong Man” (1956), and another masterpiece, “Psycho” (1960).
I wanted to stay with the concept of color, which offered 13 features. The number of movies was an added bonus considering the many thematic legends associated with the number 13 and who the director is.
In the order they were released, I watched: “Dial M For Murder” (1954, and I did stay awake), “Rear Window” (1954), “To Catch A Thief” (1955), “The Trouble With Harry” (1955), “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956; Hitchcock’s remake of his own 1934 version), “Vertigo” (1958), “North By Northwest” (1959), “The Birds” (1963), “Marnie” (1964), “Torn Curtain” (1966), “Topaz” (1969), “Frenzy” (1972), and “Family Plot” (1976; Hitchcock’s final film).
In the 1950s alone, Hitchcock was delivering a dazzling array of wonderful screen entertainment.
By the luck of the draw, one of my favorite Hitchcock films from the 1950s, the rarely seen, delightfully droll comedy “The Trouble With Harry,” will be showing at the The Screening Room Cinema And Arts Cafe in Amherst.
Although many of his motion pictures have their comic moments, Hitchcock isn’t known for his comedic moviemaking. His previous effort was in 1941 with the screwball comedy, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”
“The Trouble With Harry” is a dark comedy about a corpse that won’t stay buried. At the start of the film, the well-dressed Harry is deceased and discovered in a gorgeous autumn setting on a hill near the serenely quiet village of Highwater, Vermont. Robert Burks contributed the beautiful Technicolor cinematography.
Three key characters take a curiously relaxed attitude toward Harry. Each of them has a perfectly sensible reason — at least to themselves — why they think they might have been accidentally responsible for Harry’s demise.
There's Captain Albert Wiles, a daffy old former seafarer, played by Edmund Gwenn, who thinks he might have shot Harry by mistake while hunting rabbits in the woods. How about Miss Ivy Gravely, a prickly spinster, played by Mildred Natwick, who believes she knocked the unlucky fellow on the head while he was allegedly trying to attack her? Last, but certainly not least, is Jennifer Rogers, Harry’s estranged wife (now a widow), played by Shirley MacLaine in her movie debut. She had recently smacked him with a milk bottle and, frankly, is quite happy to have him dead.
A fourth person involved with Harry is Sam Marlowe, a handsome young local artist, played by John Forsythe. Because Harry’s body keeps popping up at inopportune times, Sam finds it amusing that he’s constantly helping his friends bury the corpse time and time again. He and Jennifer also kindle some romantic sparks.
The film plays out with utterly charming merriment, which is assisted every step of the way by the acting of the sparkling cast. The characters may be naive, but they are adorably beguiling, and the tale bounces to a satisfying conclusion.
Directed by Hitchcock with a whimsical tongue firmly planted in his macabre cheek, the film is cleverly written by John Michael Hayes from the 1950 novel by Jack Trevor Story. (How’s that for a writer’s surname?) The film’s sprightly music score is by Bernard Herrmann, the first of seven he would compose for Hitchcock.
“The Trouble With Harry” unreels at The Screening Room at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and next Tuesday, Jan. 10. It will also play at 7 p.m. as part of a celebration of Friday the thirteenth on that day.
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