Spies, Lies, and Paranoid Wives
Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) made watchable and rewatchable movies in a career that spanned over 50 years (1925-1976) and 53 feature films. The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection (Warner Home Video) contains nine anomalous samples of his oeuvre . These are neither the best nor the worst, but somewhere still entertainingly in between. Just for the record, my own favorite Hitchcocks-all available somewhere on VHS or DVD-are, in order, Vertigo (1958), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960).
Now for the debut Hitchcock DVD’s on hand, in chronological order (the previously released North by Northwest has also been thrown into this collection). First, Foreign Correspondent (1940): great fun with spies on the eve of World War II and right up to it. Hitch wanted Gary Cooper for the lead, but I have always preferred Joel McCrae, despite his romantic pairing with Laraine Day, which lacks Hitch’s usual perversity (but is more than adequate anyway). George Sanders in his pre–Addison DeWitt period is in top form as the witty good guy; Albert Basserman is memorable as a martyred diplomat; Robert Benchley is amusing in a cameo. The film features what remains the most frightening passenger-airline crash into the briny deep ever filmed-one of many brilliant set pieces.
Suspicion (1941): Joan Fontaine suspects that mercenary hubby Cary Grant wants to murder her. He actually does in the original version, but the studio insisted that Cary Grant couldn’t be a murderer-which makes his wife paranoid rather than justifiably hysterical. (Truffaut preferred this version, he said.) Nigel Bruce is haunting as the mystery-murder victim. Sly comic subtext.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941): Hitch’s only nonhomicidal marital comedy. He did it as a favor to Carole Lombard, his winsome and whimsical admirer. Co-star Robert Montgomery figures in one of Hitch’s funniest sight gags ever-otherwise, an ordinary screwball romance.
Stage Fright (1950): Underrated and misunderstood, this is Hitch’s homage to the theater and theatricality on his first return to England from Hollywood. (His last was for Frenzy in 1972.) Marlene Dietrich makes a charismatic femme fatale, overshadowing Jane Wyman and her two pallid lovers, Richard Todd and Michael Wilding. Alastair Sim steals the show as a well-meaning meddler in the murder-mystery investigation.
Strangers on a Train (1951): There is said to be a slightly longer and franker British version of this Hitchcock doppelgänger classic, but both versions contain all the high points of the bizarre murder-swapping plot. Robert Walker’s rich Mephistophelean dilettante, Bruno, thinks he has a deal with Farley Granger’s playboy tennis star and fortune hunter, Guy, whose sluttish wife (beautifully played by Laura Elliott) stands in the way of his marrying the wealthy Ruth Roman. Bruno proceeds to murder Guy’s wife in a signature Hitchcock amusement-park sequence, but Guy doesn’t wish to murder Bruno’s father-part of a deal he has agreed to only in jest. Patricia Highsmith wrote the novel, and Raymond Chandler collaborated on the screenplay.
I Confess (1953): Hitch gets back at the Jesuit educators of his childhood with this somewhat irreverent view of the Quebec clergy in the midst of a scandalous murder investigation and trial. Montgomery Clift plays the priest who will not violate the sanctity of confession, even when he is made privy to a murderer’s admission of guilt in his priestly role as confessor. Clift, in the throes of the Method, did not appreciate the technical acting of his co-star, Anne Baxter. O.E. Hasse is superb as the villain.
Dial M for Murder (1954): This is a four-star movie in 3-D, only a three-star movie in 2-D-but that’s the only version you’ll get now that the 3-D process is more or less moribund. Ray Milland is smooth and cerebral as another husband who plans to murder his wife; Grace Kelly is erotically charged as the would-be victim; Robert Cummings is just adequate as her lover; John Williams is brilliant as the inspector; and Anthony Dawson is chillingly effective as the murderer for hire.
The Wrong Man (1956): Hitchcock in a realistic vein, telling the true story of a near-miscarriage of justice. Henry Fonda and Vera Miles perform ably in authentic settings, but there is none of Hitch’s perversity and humor amid all the maddening truth-seeking.
Kids in a Convenience Store
Kevin Smith is the Jersey boy who made good-and soon thereafter moved to L.A. to live in Ben Affleck’s old bachelor pad. But calling Mr. Smith a sellout because he hocks Panasonic DVD recorders or chums it up with Jay Leno, rather than hanging out at the Red Bank rec center, is to assume that Mr. Smith’s cult classic Clerks followed some tacit auteur ethos that Mr. Smith has since betrayed. However disappointed one might be with his most recent effort, Jersey Girl , the film was more an example of selling up than selling out.
With Clerks X , the three-disc, 10th-anniversary edition, Mr. Smith catalogs all the minutiae of production and emotion, as if giving his loyal fan base a blueprint for their own escape from suburban tedium: “How to Turn Your Dreary Existence into Comedic Fodder.” The bonus features are extremely indulgent. The centerpiece is a feature-length documentary about the making of Clerks called Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks . It starts with the conception of Mr. Smith by his parents-apparently they like to have sex in November-and ends with him selling his own baby to Harvey Weinstein and Miramax. (The real “bonus” here is seeing Mr. Weinstein refer to himself as an “old fart.”) Far from being a “True Hollywood Story,” the documentary proves just how ordinary Mr. Smith is-and why, after all these years without a big box-office smash, he continues to be the yin to Quentin Tarantino’s yang at Miramax. But audiences can relate to him: to his cynicism, to his ennui, to his awkwardness, to his blue-collar sensibility. When he succeeds, his audience does too.
Mr. Smith also includes snippets from his journal, two articles by The Village Voice ‘s Amy Taubin (one about him, the other about Richard Linklater’s Slacker ), an intro that features him and his longtime friend and producer Scott Mosier, and other little ditties that are sure to drive the kids wild.
So beware: This is the preacher sermonizing to the choir. And if you’ve never worn a hockey jersey for anything but playing hockey, this anniversary set may not be for you.