Sunday, September 28, 2008
Okay, I thought I'd get a little clever here and check out a movie by a certain master of suspense, whose films sometimes seem rather noirish despite the fact that he not often associated with the genre.
Notable Talent: And that master is, of course, Alfred Hitchcock. When doing a little research for noir month, I saw this film listed as more recognizably noir than many of his other films. And I thought that it was kind of interesting that his films share a lot in common with film noir, yet never seem to be discussed as such. Maybe there are nuances I don't understand, or maybe it's just because Hitch is in a class of his own. This also stars Henry Fonda, which really makes me wonder why this isn't a better known film. I'm a Hitchcock fan, and I was barely aware of this one's existence.
Detective Story: There are some detectives! Woo. But it's not a detective story. Boo. Henry Fonda is mistaken for a criminal, and the law wreaks havoc on his life as a result.
Twisty, Turny Plot: What surprised me here is that this isn't as much of a thriller as other Hitchcock movies. It's more of a tense, slightly nightmarish drama about the persecution this guy goes through. Of course, there's the famous story about Hitchcock's childhood, where his dad apparently had him locked up in a cell overnight for no other reason other than to convince him to always be a good boy. He hadn't done anything wrong. And so, if you can believe that story, that's why this wrongfully accused motif exists in many of Hitchcock's films. This is like the purest expression of that: the movie takes you through, step by step, this man's persecution and experiences with the criminal justice system. No chases, no action, this is not a sexy movie. More like Hitchcock's worst nightmare.
Moral Ambiguity: Surprisingly, I'm not sensing any here. Fonda is a good man run through the ringer by an uncaring system. There's no guilt here, in fact the very point is that he's being punished without being guilty. Hitchcock usually implicates his heroes in crime more than this... think Jimmy Stewart spying on his neighbors in Rear Window.
Sweety-ass Shadowy Black and White Cinematography: You can always count on Hitch in this category, the man was a master stylist. He turns nearly every location into a dark, gloomy kind of hell. Especially memorable are the jail sequences, where he goes overboard on the style to make you feel trapped in a confined space. He also has the camera fly through a peep hole and even through a solid door at one point, sort of like this is a proto-Panic Room or something.
Overall Quality: This is far from an all-time great, but it's still a pretty solid drama/paranoid thriller. I am surprised it's not better known, maybe it's not as good as Vertigo, but I think it lends itself just as strongly to auteur theory analysis. And Henry Fonda is good here, I'm not too too too familiar with his work, but he comes off as very natural and surprisingly modern for a film from this time period. His work here makes an interesting companion to his work in Twelve Angry Men... there's a similar message, but seen from a different perspective.
Not one of Hitch's masterpieces, but that's okay because his "average" is better than most directors' "best":
1) The Set Up
2) Act of Violence
3) Crime Wave
4) Night and the City
5) The Big Steal
6) The Wrong Man
8) Angel Face
9) Shoot the Piano Player
10) Gun Crazy
11) Mystery Street
13) They Live By Night