Tag Archives: Cornell Woolrich

Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

Rear Window is an absurdly good time. It’s breathtakingly produced and the set is a marvel on its own, but it’s also an absurdly good time. You’ve got Thelma Ritter chastising James Stewart not just for peeping, she also chastises him for not being serious enough about Grace Kelly. How could it not be an absurdly good time.

So the film is simultaneously Hitchcock the popular filmmaker–enjoy these stars in these performances–it’s Hitchcock the technical filmmaker. The first half of the film, maybe even longer, is usually Hitchcock showing off what he, cinematographer Robert Burks, editor George Tomasini, and uncredited(!) sound editor Howard Beals can do. What they do is transport the viewer into a New York apartment, staring out at the world, with Stewart around to play tour guide for a while. Rear Window isn’t just the story of Stewart healing from a broken leg or deciding whether or not to settle for Grace Kelly or even solving a murder–it’s all the little stories going on around. It’s the care screenwriter John Michael Hayes takes in how Stewart’s interpretation of these stories comes through. It’s delicate and deliberate and just part of that breathtaking production. Rear Window takes itself very seriously. You have to take yourself seriously if you’re going to have Jimmy Stewart complain Grace Kelly is just too perfect for him. You need Thelma Ritter there. With Rear Window, there can be no substitutions. Everything is just so.

After setting up the murder mystery–which brings Wendell Corey into the film and apartment as Stewart’s old war buddy now copper–Rear Window still takes its time. Hitchcock and Hayes play around with the mystery plot line, really changing up the pace of the film. It takes place over less than a week, with the initial nights really emphasized. The repetitive effect, with the occasional car horn and steady rainfall, brings the viewer in. Rear Window enthralls, quite intentionally. The last act is real time, neither the viewer nor the narrative able to handle much more. Hitchcock has a great sense for when he’s going too far, asking too much. He guides it beautifully.

All of the performances are great. Ritter’s hilarious, Kelly’s too perfect, Stewart’s–Stewart. Stewart is immobile, but always active. He’s simultaneously the viewer’s guide and de facto view finder and protagonist. He doesn’t get a lot of protagonist help from Hayes’s script after a while, just because there’s too much going on, but Stewart makes it happen. In fact, he’s almost good enough for it to be believable he’s closer in age to Kelly than he is to Ritter. The chemistry between the actors is just too good. Rear Window’s got a lot of dialogue and it has to be done just right, not only for exposition, but to cultivate that chemistry. Hitchcock knows without it, Rear Window would be too voyeuristic.

Wendell Corey’s a lot of fun too as the straight man. It’s a hard part because everyone wants there to be a crime, everyone wants there to be a mystery. Except Corey. He wants to go home, so the viewer’s inclined against him. Hitchcock and Corey play with that hostility. Because it’s a smart movie.

Rear Window’s all-around awesome.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Franz Waxman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (L.B. Jefferies), Grace Kelly (Lisa Carol Fremont), Wendell Corey (Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle), Thelma Ritter (Stella), and Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald).


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Fear in the Night (1947, Maxwell Shane)

Fear in the Night shows just how far something can get on the gimmick. Bank teller DeForest Kelley wakes up one morning from the dream he killed someone. He then discovers evidence of his crime and, as he suspects he’s going mad, starts going a little mad.

If not totally mad, he does make some poor choices.

Luckily–or unluckily–Kelley’s brother-in-law (Paul Kelly) is a homicide detective.

Night doesn’t have good narration–though director Shane’s script does use it consistently–and Shane isn’t much of a director, but the film intrigues. The plotting is fantastic, with Shane withholding clues for so long I was wondering if he was ever even going to explain the mystery.

Shane handles the mystery in two parts. First, whether it’s real or not and then what–if it does turn out to be real–the consequences will be for the characters. Kelley’s also got a faithful girlfriend in Kay Scott and a concerned sister in Ann Doran. Shane gives Kelly a lot to do in terms of negotiating being a good husband and a homicide cop.

As a director, Shane’s mediocre at best but does have some creative visual flourishes.

Kelly is really good, even with some questionable dialogue, and he’s able to carry the film. Sometimes he has to carry Kelley through rough scenes; Kelley isn’t very good. He has a tough role but he also isn’t very good. He’s likable, however.

The whole thing is likable… but not very good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Maxwell Shane; screenplay by Shane, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Jack Greenhalgh; edited by Howard A. Smith; music by Rudy Schrager; produced by William H. Pine and William C. Thomas; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring DeForest Kelley (Vince Grayson), Paul Kelly (Cliff Herlihy), Ann Doran (Lil Herlihy), Kay Scott (Betty Winters), Charles Victor (Captain Warner), Jeff York (Deputy Torrence) and Robert Emmett Keane (Harry Byrd).


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The Leopard Man (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

The Leopard Man has such beauteous production values–one would never think it was a low budget picture, not with Robert De Grasse’s lush blacks and he and director Tourneur’s tracking shots–it’s a shame the acting fails the film.

A lot of the problem the script. Co-screenwriters Ardel Wray and Edward Dein try hard to show Hispanic culture in a New Mexico town, both in the dialogue and the tone. Sadly, they fail miserably. The script seems to be showing the townspeople as solemnly dignified, but it comes off as callow and ignorant.

Tourneur follows prospective victims around to ratchet up the fear factor, which is a fine approach, but the actors are just terrible. Second-billed Margo gives such an awful performance–not to mention her character being a lousy human being in general–every time the titular monster takes a victim, it’s sad it’s not her. Her fellow ingenues, Margaret Landry and Tuulikki Paananen, are both awful too.

In the ostensible female lead, Jean Brooks is good but she has almost nothing to do. She and leading man Dennis O’Keefe are literally visitors in The Leopard Man; the film downgrades their presence to a subplot.

Good supporting work from James Bell and Abner Biberman helps. Ben Bard is iffy as the cop.

Great music from Roy Webb, excellent cutting from Mark Robson. Tourneur’s composition is outstanding no matter the scene. The Leopard Man is a technical delight to behold… it’s a shame about the middling stuff.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry Manning), Jean Brooks (Kiki Walker), James Bell (Dr. Galbraith), Ben Bard (Chief Roblos), Abner Biberman (Charlie How-Come), Margaret Landry (Teresa Delgado), Tuulikki Paananen (Consuelo Contreras), Isabel Jewell (Maria the Fortune Teller) and Margo (Clo-Clo).


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Phantom Lady (1944, Robert Siodmak)

There’s a distinct, definite brilliance to Siodmak’s direction. The film itself is unique in casting a woman as the hero in a film noir, essentially Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, while maintaining her as female. Ella Raines’s boss (played, in the film’s only mediocre performance, by Alan Curtis) is falsely convicted, due to perjury. Raines goes after the three perjurers and Siodmak creates, in each case, a magnificent sequence, whether it’s chase or just discomfort. Phantom Lady’s most well-known for the sexually charged scene with Raines and Elisha Cook Jr. at a jam session, but Siodmak’s just as impressive during the subsequent resolution to that scene.

All of or most of Phantom Lady was shot on set and Siodmak even uses matte paintings–quite effectively–for one of the pursuit scenes. Early on, during the trial, Siodmak gets the acknowledgment of artifice out of the way, summarizing the trial with voiceovers, tracking time with a court stenographer’s shorthand, focusing the cameras on Raines and Thomas Gomez (the sympathetic cop). Once that very artificial sequence is out of the way, once the audience has digested it, Siodmak doesn’t have to worry about anyone griping about the sets.

The relationship between Gomez and Raines is particularly interesting, because he’s in that position as the film noir sympathetic cop who shouldn’t be helping but is helping… but he’s also sensitive to Raines’s position (she’s in love with convicted boss Curtis). The two details never conflict for Gomez (and, to some degree, it’s entirely believable Raines would be as dedicated without the emotional investment). It’s a big surprise, seeing such unique gender dynamics in a Universal noir from 1944.

All the performances–besides Curtis’s–are fantastic. Raines is both the Kansas farm girl in love with her boss and the film noir hero without ever toggling between the two. She’s always both… Cook’s good in his scenes, as are Fay Helm and Andrew Tombes. Franchot Tone is great, surrounded by weird statues in an apartment; it looks like the Coens adapted it for Blood Simple.

I think I’ve only seen Phantom Lady once before, but certainly remembered it being good… I just didn’t remember Siodmak’s utterly great direction (or maybe just wasn’t filmically mature enough to appreciate it).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Arthur Hilton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Franchot Tone (Jack Marlow), Ella Raines (Carol Richman), Alan Curtis (Scott Henderson), Aurora Miranda (Estela Monteiro), Thomas Gomez (Inspector Burgess), Fay Helm (Ann Terry), Elisha Cook Jr. (Cliff Milburn), Andrew Tombes (Mac the bartender), Regis Toomey (Detective Chewing Gum), Joseph Crehan (Detective Tom), Doris Lloyd (Madame Kettisha) and Virginia Brissac (Dr. Helen Chase).


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