I’ve been on a definite shadowy-movies kick these last two months, and have fallen thoroughly behind in reviewing them–they go by faster than books, you know! I thought I’d do a round-up of several movies I’ve watched recently that fall into the Peril on Screen category for R.I.P.
Dark Passage (1947) is an excellent film noir murder mystery–you can’t go far wrong in film noir when you have Humphrey Bogart as your lead. Vincent Perry (Bogart) is wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife; he breaks out of San Quentin and goes on the run into San Francisco. Luckily for him, Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) is on hand to help him hide. Unluckily, the police have set a manhunt in motion, and the only way to escape recapture is to change his face.
This movie strains credulity in places with coincidences and how neatly things unroll. On the plus side, it employs a fascinating device–rather than casting two actors as Vincent, the movie avoids showing his face for the first 45 minutes or so. Almost everything is from Vincent’s eye view…until he’s bandaged up post-plastic-surgery. And of course, when the bandages come off, he’s Humphrey Bogart. The biggest strain to credulity (maybe) is when someone Vincent used to know well completely fails to recognize his voice. The face may be different, but Bogie’s voice is unmistakable.
My favorite part is actually a random interlude–a small time conman tries to blackmail Vincent, and in the middle of the whole thing he starts giving advice on how Vincent can go on the run…go through Arizona, you’ll need fake papers, I know just the guy you should go to–didn’t you learn anything in Quentin? They’ve got real smart guys in Quentin! It’s a great bit of humor in a mostly grim movie.
To Catch a Thief (1955) is a Hitchcock film, later than most of the ones I’ve been reviewing. Cary Grant plays a former jewel thief, out to catch a copycat robber when he’s accused of the crimes. It’s essentially a whodunnit, with Grace Kelly thrown in as a love interest. It’s pretty good on the whole, although the twist on the culprit feels a bit dated…and I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers!
Thinking about this movie, it occurred to me that my favorite Hitchcock films are the ones where nothing happens. The ones where people are going about what, on the surface, appears to be ordinary life…with a lurking terror underneath. On the surface, Suspicion appears to be about happy newly-weds; Rebecca, ditto; it’s only the woman’s suspicions that indicate something is wrong. Rope is about a dinner party and Strangers on a Train is mostly about one character being stalked through his ordinary life. It’s the illusion of normalcy that gives power to the tension. Not many people actually stay at creepy castles on stormy nights, and even fewer hunt jewel thieves on rooftops, but everyone goes to parties.
To Catch a Thief is a good movie, but it’s less a psychological suspense film and more a straight mystery where things happen–and all against the backdrop of the Riviera, by the way. The scenery is practically another character.
Double Indemnity (1944) centers around a murder–although it’s not exactly a murder mystery, as it opens with Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) confessing to the crime. He proceeds to narrate how it all happened, in a very Sunset Boulevard style. Neff is an insurance man who fell for a client’s wife (Barbara Stanwyck)–and decided to help her commit the perfect murder on her husband. A “double indemnity” is a special clause to double the insurance payment if someone dies in a highly unlikely way.
This one is more psychological, a murder story without a drop of blood that centers around the puzzle of how to pull off the murder–and then how it unravels. Edward G. Robinson is particularly good as Barton Keyes, a claims investigator with an instinct for sniffing out false claims. I’m fascinated by the way he views it as a puzzle too, apparently less concerned with the fact of murder than with the insurance fraud involved.
Even though there’s no actual hard-boiled detective in this one, Neff and Keyes both have their hard-boiled moments, and there’s a definite film noir feel.
I fit in one last Hitchcock film with Rear Window (1954), another later film. After my observation with To Catch a Thief, I decided to rewatch another Hitchcock where not a whole lot happens…and sure enough, I liked the film very much! Jimmy Stewart plays a photojournalist who broke his leg (pursuing a photo), and is stuck in his apartment for weeks. He passes the time watching his neighbors out his window. Things turn sinister when he suspects one neighbor killed his wife. Love interest Grace Kelly gets a bit more to do here than she did in To Catch a Thief.
This one is mostly an elaborate puzzle, with Stewart and Kelly trying to work out how the murder might have been done, and how they can prove it. There’s some action at the end, and I do like that the male lead’s broken leg gives the female lead a chance at a bit more daring-do.
My favorite part of this movie, though, was less the murder mystery, and more the other stories playing out through the window. We also get to see into five other apartments, each with their own inhabitants and their own narratives. Hitchcock does a lovely job of carrying each of them along (and with virtually no dialogue, since it’s all observation) and giving a nice wrap-up at the end of the movie. Those stories were less dramatic, but they were more focused on the individual and what they were experiencing, and perhaps that’s why I liked them!
It’s funny…I didn’t make any movie-viewing plans at the beginning of R.I.P. but that turned out to be my favorite part this year!
4 thoughts on “Peril On Screen Round-Up”
“it occurred to me that my favorite Hitchcock films are the ones where nothing happens…”
This! Yes! My thoughts exactly 🙂 Love Rear Window, To Catch A Thief–not so much!
I love how you watch so many classic films. I think Rear Window is my favourite Hitchcock film I have watched so far 🙂
I’ve seen all those movies except Dark Passage. Will have to check that one out! That’s an interesting observation about how Hitchcock builds suspense underneath the most mundane circumstances of life. I seem to remember some scenes in The Birds where a bunch of birds in a tree, making noise, comes across as very scary (because of their attacking humans). But the shots are just of birds in trees. Same idea as the examples you give. (The all-time best is Cary Grant with the sinister glass of milk in Suspicion.)
Great round-up! I first watched Double Indemnity in a film class as an undergrad, and it’s remained a fave. 🙂