Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Hitchcock didn't get on with his method-actor lead Paul Newman who kept wanting to know what his motivation was and wasn't satisfied with Hitchcock's answer: Your cheque. Hitchcock wanted Eva Marie Saint but had big star Julie Andrews forced on him. The script was a mess and British writers Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall had to do extensive and uncredited rewriting before it was even barely filmable. Hitchcock had a bust-up with long-term musical collaborator Bernard Herrmann over the score and even after a second attempt by BH, Hitch hired someone else for the final version. And just to put the nail in the coffin, there is no discernable chemistry between the two lead actors.

Despite all that, it's actually quite a watchable film if you can ignore the various stupidities of the plot. The standout scene is the extended killing of Newman's East German minder in  a farmhouse which was intended to show how hard and how grisly it is to actually kill someone. Shocking at the time, it now seems relatively tame but does retain a certain emotional impact.

Aside: Newman plays a scientist visiting a conference in Denmark, with fiance Andrews, when he defects to East Germany where she follows. It's a con of course as he's really there to steal an important scientific secret which will help his own work for the US government. When the East German authorities realise there's something amiss -like finding the dead body of the minder- Newman and Andrews go on the run.

Now, the most painful plot stupidity. Newman loses his minder and goes to visit his contact. Where is the contact? In a seedy hidden backstreet in East Berlin? No, it's in the country, on a farm, which neccessitates him taking a taxi. Spotted the weakness in the plan? Yes, the taxi driver can, and does, identify him and tells the authorities where he went.  While at the farm, he and a woman murder his minder (see above). Now where is the body (and the motorbike) buried? Is it miles away? No. Is it on the farm where the authorities can easily find it (them)? Yes. Superspies these people aren't.

Just one other thing. Hitchcock was known for making a brief appearance in every film he made and as a result this little piece of vanity lead cinema-goers to watch out for his appearance. They didn't have to try hard to spot him hear because the music blasts a loud cue that he was associated with from his TV show. They may as well have had a giant cardboard arrow onscreen pointing at him. It completely takes you out of the film.

(As usual, thanks to Wikipaedia for some details.)

No comments: