Archive for 1954

Rear Window

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Rear Window photo starrating-5stars.jpgThe story is simple. Photojournalist L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (James Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment. His broken leg injury is temporary thanks to an accident during an on the job assignment. He remains at home while he recuperating. His rear window overlooks a small courtyard where he can see into the rooms of other apartments. The view is a microcosm of humanity at various stages in their relationships. It’s voyeurism at its most enthusiastically unrestrained. As he peers into the private lives of his neighbors, we are disturbed and intrigued all at the same time. Though he doesn’t know them, he creates nicknames for some residents based on his observations. Among them, there’s Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso, Miss Hearing Aid. There’s also the songwriter, the newlyweds, the couple on the fire escape, the traveling salesman and his invalid wife. Then one day he firmly believes one has committed murder. He hasn’t actually seen the act, though, so how will he prove it?

First and foremost, Rear Window is a thriller, but additionally bubbling beneath the surface we’ve got this captivating love story between Jeff (James Stewart) and Manhattan model and socialite, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), who wants to marry him. Despite her exhortations for them to tie the knot, he is reluctant to commit. Stella (Thelma Ritter), in a great supporting role as his wisecracking nurse, thinks Jeff’s fear is ridiculous.

“When a man and a woman see each other and like each other, “ she says, “they ought to come together – wham! Like a couple of taxis on Broadway, not sit around analyzing each other like two specimens in a bottle.”

Jeff’s profession and his love of travel literally mean the world to him. Lisa loves expensive clothes and attending parties. You aren’t made for that kind of a life,“ he contends. Yet Kelly plays the character in a way so that she never seems materialistic or vain. On the contrary, we agree with Jeff. She is perfect. At one point he sends her out to go investigate. As she climbs up the railing to go into a suspected murderer’s apartment, we realize something: She truly is too good for him.

When we talk about the golden age of Hollywood and I mean the period covering the late 1920s to the early 1960s, Grace Kelly must certainly be included in the greatest sirens of the silver screen. She is positively luminous in this picture. Jeff awakes to a full close-up of her coming towards him for a kiss. It’s a memorable shot. Kelly is introduced wearing an $1100 dress “fresh from the Paris plane” and it’s spectacular. It’s the first of many outfits she wears throughout the production and each one just as stunning as the next. Legendary Edith Head was the costume designer so we expect nothing less.

Rear Window is regularly listed with the greatest movies ever made. Certainly one of Hitchcock’s finest. In addition to the exceptional chemistry between star James Stewart and a radiant Grace Kelly , there’s Raymond Burr as salesman Lars Thorwald with his hair dyed white to make him appear older. When his invalid wife disappears, Jeff suspects foul play might be involved. The setting is a fascinating tableau. Virtually the entire feature is shot from Jeff’s gaze looking out into the open courtyard into the many windows of his neighbors. Each residence is a set within itself, fully furnished. With few exceptions, the camera never leaves the confinement of Stewart’s apartment. The setting can get a bit claustrophobic. Nevertheless it’s a brilliantly assembled theatrical piece right down to the heart-pounding climax . Hitchcock’s brilliance as a director has never been questioned and with Rear Window, his abilities as a visual storyteller remain unparalleled.

03-22-15

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White Christmas

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Holiday, Romance with tags on December 4, 2013 by Mark Hobin

White Christmas photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt’s Christmas Eve, 1944. Two entertainers in the army are giving a show to the troops of the 151st Division somewhere in Europe. In the midst of the program, an enemy attack causes a large stone wall to fall toward Bob Wallace. Phil Davis is able to push him out of harm’s way, but not without sustaining a minor injury to his own arm. After the war, Phil uses his good deed to convince Bob to form a singing duo. They make it big in nightclubs, radio and then Broadway where they launch a hit musical. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are the army buddies, Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) and Vera-Ellen are the sisters they hire into the act. Everyone has chemistry to spare.

White Christmas is a perennial favorite of the holidays. Of course the title for the movie is from the enduring hit, the best-selling single of all time. Originally written for the 1942 musical Holiday Inn, White Christmas was a belated follow up to that hit movie. This is another excuse to weave a lot of Irving Berlin songs into a simplistic plot. “Blue Skies”, “Snow”, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” They’re all here. The song “Sisters” is particularly entertaining – in 2 different versions sung by both sexes. Bright colorful production is beautifully filmed in the widescreen format VistaVision. White Christmas also spotlights some really splashy dance numbers including “Choreography”, “Abraham” and “Mandy”. The latter of which features dresses and tuxes in such blazing reds and greens, the color is simply bursting from the frame. The spectacle was syrupy sweet when it came out, but feels even more corny today.  A less secure critic might be embarrassed to concede that he actually delights in this sort of hokum. I freely admit I enjoy this film without one iota of shame. There’s a sugar-coated artificiality to the proceedings, but that’s what makes the old fashioned display so heartwarming. There’s a reason why this has endured for 6 decades.

A Star Is Born

Posted in Drama, Musical, Romance with tags on January 3, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketLandmark musical remake of the 1937 original about two star-crossed lovers in show business.  Her fame is rising, his is starting to fade and their career trajectories form the plot of this film.  Rarely has a musical featured such happily upbeat numbers (“Gotta Have Me Go With You”, “Lose That Long Face”) and simultaneously presented a storyline that is so profoundly sad.  One quibble: extended “Born in A Trunk” number is dispensable and drags on the film’s excessive  176-minute length.  Otherwise Judy Garland and James Mason are spectacular in their respective Oscar nominated roles.  The film may have surprisingly gone home empty handed on Oscar night, but time has only made this musical seem even more impressive.