Blame It on Rio

MGM has released three of the four Hitchcock/Selznick films on Blu-ray (“The Paradine Case,” of course, remains the neglected stepchild), which gives me an excuse to return to “Notorious” for this week’s New York Times review. Yep, it’s still a pretty good movie, perhaps the most complexly structured of Hitchcock’s forties films and the one that points forward, in its daring shifts in point of view, to the ultimate audacity of “Psycho.”

I was surprised to discover, in poking around on the web, that “Notorious” is actually a remake — or at least, the second film adaptation of a 1923 novel, “The Song of the Dragon,” by John Taintor Foote. In the 1927 version, “Convoy,” directed by one Joseph C. Boyle, local favorite Dorothy Mackaill stars as a society woman who, at the height of World War I, is assigned by a government agent with the single name “Smith” (Ian Keith) to seduce a German spy (Lowell Sherman) working undercover in New York. A First National release, it’s something that Hitchcock could well have seen and, being the great magpie that he was, filed away for future use the idea of a woman trapped between a distant, manipulative representative of law and order and (certainly as the part would have been played by Sherman) a charming, sympathetic villain. “Convoy” apparently exists and I wonder if there are any other parallels between the two films. Has anyone seen it?

J. Hoberman, who used to write for some downtown club guide (I forget what it was called now), has a typically insightful analysis of the David Gordon Green/Clint Eastwood Superbowl ad up at the blog of the New York Review of Books (one quibble — the Clint I know has long identified himself as a Libertarian, not a Republican). And of course J. continues to aggregate his pieces for his self-proclaimed “Das Blog of Shameless Self-Promotion,” which can be found right here.

70 comments to Blame It on Rio

  • Brian Dauth

    Hitchcock’s post-MARNIE films need no polish from anyone — they are remarkable works of art showing a grea artist moving in new directions while moxt of his colleagues wander lost in the fog of outdated aesthetic approaches.

  • Alex

    Biarn Dauth,

    I’d agree that Hitchcock’s post-MARNIE films need no POLISH from anyone. Indeed, Hitchcock’s style does bring FAMILY PLOT off as a smart diversion, despite its dull cast.

    However, TORN CURTAIN, though enthralling through Newman’s intense battle-to-the-death at that farm house kitchen, is ultimately about as rewarding as Mark Robson’s THE PRIZE. TOPAZ isn’t much after its great opening Copenhagen chase sequence.

    I’ll suspend judgment on FRENZY as I’ve never been able to either stay with it to the end or awake throughout.

  • “Did Jay Sommers write and Richard Bare direct Baltimore portions?”

    Taken in their totally these are among the highlights of “Marnie”: the first visit with Mrs. Edgar, the flashback and then the final confrontation/reconciliation; there’s a dialectical relationship between the the first and final exteriors of the Baltimore Harbor, the first with the flat back drop and the second from the same angle with the Albert Whitlock matte painting replacing it.

    As for the post-”Marnie” pictures, they’re all fascinating and show Hitchcock’s ingenuity in adapting to circumstances and constraints. To me, “Topaz” is good from beginning to end(ings.)

  • Oliver_C

    Oh, thank Heavens, it must be a whopping six months or so since the previous defend-the-honour-of-late-Hitchcock thread; I was beginning to worry!

  • Junko Yasutani

    I agree with people who say artifice in MARNIE is good use of mise-en-scene.

    Later Hitchcock movie is all interesting to me, because Hitchcock is reconsidering his style under different condition of production.

    I do not think it is question of honour, it is question of struggle for new artistic response. For that reason, all late movies was interesting.

  • Alex Hicks

    But designer Robert Boyle and cinematographer Robert Burke are recorded in Robert Kapsis’s “Hitchcock: the Making of a Reputation” that at leat that first Baltimore backdrop was a gaffe, to which Hitchcock latter agreed. (Not to speak of Spoto’s report of Hitchcock collapse of interest in MARNIE when me to complete the film shooting when the last-shot, Baltimore sequences of MARNIE rolled around.)

    What seeing a drop off (“a post-Marnie dip”) in quality for Hitchcock’s final four films — or some lapses in the great MARNIE– have to do with “Hitchcock’s “honour” escapes me.

    Perhaps my reservations about Hitchcock’s final four are beset by too demanding a Hitchcockian yard stick.

  • Rich Deming

    Certainly, how a career ends (or begins for that matter) do not tarnish the great films of a filmmaker. That said, if we are going to present glowing testimony to late-in-life efforts from a filmmaker, then it is also fair to note disappointing late-in-life efforts. Or career for that matter (Sophia Coppola immediately coming to mind).

    On the positive side of things, I would suggest that oldsters Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen have not had ‘Hitchcock-in-his-70′s’ results, with recent films that I believe have been the strongest ‘cluster’ in their careers.

    Three cheers for the edit function being back … which unfortunately is a double-edged sword of having no more excuses for my lack-than-stellar writing skills.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘On the positive side of things, I would suggest that oldsters Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen have not had ‘Hitchcock-in-his-70′s’ results, with recent films that I believe have been the strongest ‘cluster’ in their careers.’

    I do not think it is a matter of old age only. There is question of production circumstance, techincal change. Example, there is fewer light on set than from 1960s and 1970s, so taking shorter time to light set. Time consuming things are fewer now, so making a difference for 70 year old men to have stamina for director responsibility.

    Recent English word I have learned is monocausal, one cause explains everything. I do not believe it, there is many cause involved that was suggested above for change in Hitchcock late movie.

  • Before we start talking about Jerry Lewis, I do want to note that I’ve never understood or quite grasped Devlin’s motivation in Notorious, and attribute its – to me – obscurity to a sophistication in the film that I don’t get, and which other types of audiences didn’t understand either. I wonder how contemporaneous audiences related to the characters. For the most part, the “film’s” sympathy seems to be with Alicia, as she observes and tries to understand Devlin from the outside, so to speak. Thus it is a “woman’s picture” thriller, like most of Hitchcock’s early American films. Still, I’d sure like to know what is bugging him. I have yet to read a thorough account of this “crux” though I am sure that there is one out there.

  • Rich Deming

    I’m not sure Devlin’s actions make any more sense than they exist to move the story forward. I like Notorious quite a bit, but plausibility was never the film’s strength.

  • Barry Putterman

    D.K,, it seems to me that what is “bugging” Devlin is pretty clear. It is Alicia’s past behavior. Something which we don’t actually see in the film. Like the Indians’ past behavior in NORTHWEST PASSAGE.

    As for motivation, Devlin does quite a number of things in the film, so you would have to get a bit more specific about that.

  • Robert Regan

    Rich,

    It is premature to think of Sofia Coppola as late in career, as she is only forty years old. She may yet top the few films she has made so far.

  • Alex

    Rich Deming,

    It never crossed my mind that irregular quality in a director’s output suggests a “tarnishing” of “a great film maker” much less the “great films of a great a filmmaker” but you may be be correct in (I think) intuiting that some people do.

    Indeed, Hitchcock is my own best guess at my favorite director.

    Heck, I enjoy all of Hitchcock’s last four films but FRENZY and watch each every five or so years.

    Three cheers for Alfred Hitchcock! — and foiur cheers for about half of them!!!

  • Rich Deming

    Robert Regan,

    I think you’re missing my point about Ms. Coppola. It has nothing to do with her age only her career as a A-list director. Heck, I didn’t even think she was forty.

  • Robert Regan

    Give the kid a break, Rich.

  • Rich Deming

    Robert,

    I’m guessing that as film directors go, those that have had more breaks than Ms. Coppola – would make for a very short list.

  • N Vera

    Loved the relationship Rains’ character had with his mother–when he announces his marriage the mother shuts herself in her room and starts to decline; when he comes to her to admit his mistake in marrying a spy, the first thing she does after his confession is light up a cigar. Talk about the rekindling of her virility.

  • Rich Deming

    That’s one way of looking at but I never saw any lack of strength in Mother. Instead I see the overwhelming weakness in the son. Forgive the Lebowskism, but ‘in the parlance of our time’, the son is her little bitch.

  • N Vera

    You can see a give and take in the power dynamics between mother and son. She is absent for most of the screen time when he’s preparing for his wedding; when asked she’s in her room or unavailable. When he finally sees her it’s to admit a fatal mistake. And she rises up, and takes over. Fascinating stuff.

  • Rich Deming

    Indeed.

    And “rises up” seems quite the point as Mother’s cigar is quite the phallic symbol. One could certainly suggest that the size of her cigar makes her the ‘alpha male’ in the situation. Further and much darker a thought, that it show Mother’s arousal from the inactivity you discussed, and not just any activity but activity that she finds exciting or ‘arousing’ as it were.