Movies Review 24 – Early Hitchcock

A while back I picked up one of those cheap 4 movie packs of early Alfred Hitchcock movies that have fallen under the public domain. I hoped I would someday find the time to watch them and when I recently picked up a nasty flu, there was little else I could do other than sit in front of the ‘tube’. I soon after plunking in the first DVD, I found myself engrossed by Hitchcock’s artistry and going through the whole darn set. Well almost. Aside from the 3 movies listed here, there was a fourth, “Easy Virtue” that was a Hitchcock 1928 silent, but the film stock used for the transfer to DVD was so butchered I gave up after watching about half of it. But the rest just reminded me that ‘Hitch’ was a great director (the greatest?) and even his early work is worth a viewing.

The 39 Steps (1935)
During a vaudeville like act on a London stage a shot rings out in the theater and as the ensuing melee sorts itself out and people rush for the streets, Canadian Richard Hannay is approached by a woman asking him to escort her from the scene. He bring her to his sparse apartment where she confides that it was herself that fired the pistol to arouse the crowd in order to elude being followed by two mysterious men. Before the night is over the woman is killed with a knife sticking out her back, but not before she tells her new found friend about an international conspiracy and he finds a small map clutched in her dead hand. The map has the name of a small Scottish town circled. Thus starts out Hannay’s journey to foil the conspiracy while eluding the police who now suspect him of the murder of the woman.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)
I first saw this movie back in college as part of a film studies course but aside from the fact that an elderly woman seems to vanish while on a train in mid transit, I couldn’t remember any of it. The movie begins with a train line being shut down for the night forcing passengers to an overcrowded overnight stay at a remote lodge. A short while after the train resumes it’s journey the next day, the titular event occurs. The mystery of the vanishing elderly woman is compounded when a young girl who befriended her cannot seem to find anyone to even acknowledge seeing the woman. The young woman finally succeeds in convincing a traveling musician who she ironically had thrown out of the lodge the night before. The mystery depens when the train makes a stop at another town and a head-to-toe bandaged body is brought aboard, ostensibly as a patient that will be treated by a doctor on the train. The couple must then piece together the mystery of the vanishing woman, the strange body, and a distinct tune the old lady kept on humming.

Jamaica Inn (1939)
A young woman (Maureen O’Hara) on her way to live with her aunt on the coast of Cornwall circa 1800 is unceremoniously dumped onto the road during the middle of a storm when the coach driver refuses to drop her off at the Jamaica Inn, her uncle’s establishment which has a notorious reputation. She finds refuge at the house of the local magistrate of the Justice of the Peace, sir Humphrey (Charles Laughton) who puts her up for the night in his mansion. Come morning, she makes it to the Inn only to find that an unwelcoming brutish uncle mistreating her aunt. The uncle leads a pack of pirates that make home in a separate part of the Inn. Under the leadership of her uncle, but under the command of yet another unknown figure, the thieves wait for ships to approach the rocky coast at night and then extinguish the warning lights so that they can plunder the ships upon hitting the rocks. The intrigue is intensified when the young girl saves the life of one of the pirates when he is lynched by the other marauders and she tries to enlist the help of sir Humphrey. A great performance by Laughton as the eccentric crazed nobleman is the highlight of this movie. I just found to title to be odd and think that the movie would be better received (and known) today with a title that lends itself to a movie with action and suspense. As is, it sounds more like a romance movie.

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