Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) - IMDb

This French movie was one of the top foreign films from last year.

In the 18th century, a young painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) was brought to an island to paint the wedding portrait of another young withdrawn lady Héloïse (Adèle Haenel).  Héloïse has been angry about the death of her sister and she is unhappy about being promised as a bride.

Since Héloïse refused to sit for the portrait, and even drove the previous painted away.  Her mother brought Marianne in to be a confidant for Héloïse.  As they spent time together, the two ladies grew closer to one another.

The acting was solid and the story was good.  It was a beautifully shot movie.

In the end, this was a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but I would not consider this one of the great movies around.  It was solid.


Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) - IMDb

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

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This morning, I finished the “Dollars Trilogy” by Sergio Leone, by watching what is considered one of the best, if not the best, spaghetti Westerns ever made.  An argument could be made that this is the best Western period, spaghetti or not.  While I may not go that far, there is no denying that this is an iconic classic in the world of cinema.

The Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) returns for the third installment, carrying on a con with his partner Tuco (Eli Wallach), where “Blondie” (what Tuco called him) turns Tuco in for the bounty and then saves him just before he is hanged.

“Blondie” leaves Tuco because he was never going to be worth enough reward for this to be worthwhile, which ticked Tuco off and sent him on the path of revenge.

Meanwhile, Lee Van Cleef, playing a character named Sentenza (or Angel Eyes), and he is in search of a Confederate officer named Bill Carson, who had stolen $200,000 in gold and had buried it away.  Angel Eyes was in search of the gold.

The three of them interact along the way and you never know what each of them may do next.

Lee Van Cleef made his second appearance in this trilogy, but it feels as if he is playing a different character.  Though it is implied that the Man with No Name had met Angel Eyes before, and it makes it feel as if he was the same as the character he played in For a Few Dollars More, he had enough different character traits to make me think that he was meant to be a different person.  Perhaps they just used the character to do whatever they needed.

Early in the film we find out that The Man with No Name is the “good,” Angel Eyes is the “bad” and Tuco was the “ugly” of the triumvirate.  This must be one of the themes of the film because it is hard to classify Eastwood as “good” when he really is no different than either Angel Eyes or Tuco.  The three of these characters are shown as equals in their actions.

The finale of this movie was just tremendous.  It was filled with tension and uncertainty where the three of our characters facing off over the gold.  The filming, the close ups, the music did an amazing job setting the tone of the Western.

I did think the film was a bit too long and there were a few scenes that I think could have been removed to tighten this up.  The whole Civil War part of the film seemed to be tossed in for no reason.  Admittedly, the way the two sides of the Civil War are shown as neither being heroic could fall into that theme I mentioned earlier.

So I was engaged with this movie and it truly was the best of the three.  This trilogy sent the career of Clint Eastwood into the stratosphere.


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For a Few Dollars More (1965)

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The second film in Sergio Leone’s “Dollars trilogy” was called For a Few Dollars More and it was the next Western I watched today.

This saw the return of the Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood), although he was called Manco early in the film (as he was called Joe in A Fistful of Dollars).  The Man with No Name met up with, as one of the posters called him, the Man in Black.  This was Lee Van Cleef, who played Colonel Douglas Mortimer, another “bounty killer” who joins up with the Man with No Name on a mission that was more personal than the Colonel let on.

As with A Fistful of Dollars, Eastwood was the major star of this film, but he and Van Cleef worked together brilliantly.  Their pairing was tremendous in many different ways.  Not only were they a great pair, you were never quite sure what was going to happen.  You always felt as if either one could turn on the other in a split second.  Even when it appeared that they were working together, the thought of betrayal hung in the air.

There were several things that were similar to the original film, but the sequel takes them a bit further.  The action was fine, but the gunfights were pretty repetitive.  I did like the reveal at the end of the reason for the Colonel’s pursuit of the villain El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè).

The score was a true standout in this Western.  Ennio Morricone created a score that presented the perfect soundtrack for what was happening on screen.  Many times I do not hear the score as the film is going on, but this one seemed to work in such a tandem that it was easy to hear.

I do believe that the film was a tad long and could have done with some tightening up in the middle, but I think I liked this more than the last film in this trilogy.


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A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

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I have been wanting to improve my knowledge of Westerns and so I decided that I would watch the “Dollars Trilogy” to begin the stretch.  These Italian “spaghetti Westerns”  from director Sergio Leone starred Clint Eastwood and really catapulted him into stardom of the genre.

I chose to go in the order that the films were released, which meant I started with A Fistful of Dollars.

The Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) arrived in a small border town where two gangs are at conflict.  The Man with No Name began working on setting the two gangs against one another in hope of gaining wealth himself.

Eastwood is the star of this movie and he stands out among all of the other actors in the film.  His presence really brings The Man with No Name to life and provides him with his gravitas.  The screen simply fills when Eastwood is on and he is powerful and dominant in this Western.  It is clear why they went ahead with two more movies featuring this character.

The film did not hold back with the violence of the West, especially in the third act where the body count truly picked up.  However, the film did not have blood or any kind of really gruesome moments in it, so the brutality was dampened somewhat.

A Fistful of Dollars had a plot that was heavily borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) and, in fact, faced a lawsuit over that.  This film was another of the “dubbing” issues I have been having lately as most of the voices, excluding Eastwood, did not completely match the lips of the speakers.  This was an initial distraction, but I tried my best to ignore that.

The first of this trilogy got off to a fantastic start and really set the tone for the Westerns of the 1960’s and 1970’s.


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Clemency (2019)

Clemency (2019) - IMDb

Okay, this one is a kick to the gut.

Clemency is a film about Warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) and the stress and psychological pain and demons that comes with watching the executions in her prison.  This comes to the head when a young man named Anthony Woods (Aldis Hedge) is scheduled to be next to which she connects.

Alfre Woodard is heartbreaking in this movie.  Her anguish is sapping her will out of her body, effecting negatively not only her own job but her relationship with her husband Jonathan (Wendell Pierce).  Woodard is easily the standout in this movie as the entire basis for the film is riding on her performance and she knocks it out of the park.

Not to be overlooked though is Aldis Hedge, who has been coming on strong over the last few months/year.  He brings his best work as of yet in this film.  His scene with the Chaplin (Michael O’Neil) is crushing.

Though this movie has undeniably brilliant performances, the fact that it is a difficult film to watch and an even more challenge to enjoy.  It is dower and painful.  There was very little hope on display in the film.  Though gripping, it is a film that I have no desire to see again.  So while I recommend that you see it, I will not want to see it again.


Clemency (2019) - IMDb

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

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They call me Mr. Tibbs.”

I had a friend who would use that line while we were gaming and, at the time, I did not know where it was from.

Of course, I found out.  In the Heat of the Night was a successful film during the sixties and was developed into a television series in the eighties.  As I was looking through the Amazon Prime list, I came across the original movie from 1967 and thought this was a good chance to see it.

Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) was a homicide detective from Philadelphia who was traveling through the south.  While waiting for a train to take him back to Philly, he was picked up by local police on suspicion of committing a murder of a wealthy local businessman.

Of course, the only reason he was picked up was because of his skin color.  He was in Sparta, Mississippi and African-Americans were not exactly welcome, let alone a well dressed, intelligent man with a wallet filled with cash.

They brought Virgil to the office of Sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger), who discovered that Virgil was a police officer and that he was a homicide expert.  Gillespie asked Virgil to look at their case, but pressures from the community tried to get Gillespie to run Virgil out of town.

This was a very engaging movie to watch, but it was also quite difficult.  The people portrayed in this movie from Mississippi were about as backwoods as you could get when it came to their thoughts and actions toward a black man, especially a black man as successful and intelligent that Virgil was.  Watching the hatred displayed by the locals for no other reason than his skin color was disturbing.  The attitude of Gillespie was not too much better, to be honest.

The cruelty made me really want to see Virgil lash back at these racist humans, but he did not engage with the hatred.  You could see how he wanted to respond, but staying stoic was a much better choice.  However, he was not shown as being perfect either.  There was a suspect in the murder that Virgil was convinced was guilty because of his own personal feelings, and, when he realized his own biases, the case was able to get broken open.

The film also made me wonder just how many people were arrested in the south during the 1960’s just because it looked like they could have done it and that there was pressure to solve a case.

Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger were amazing in the movie.  Steiger won an Academy Award for his role and it won for Best Picture.  Quincy Jones’s score was another major piece of the film, creating an atmosphere of uneasiness.

This is a hugely important film taking on the concept of race in the south.  It is also a highly entertaining and thrilling movie.


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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) Original One-Sheet Movie ...

They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all”  -D.H. Lawrence, Whales Weep Not!

I’m ready to review a film that should cause some division.

I know there are a lot of people, including several of my friends, despise this movie.  They call it the “whale movie.”  However, I think that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is second only to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as the best in the series.

Earth in the 23rd century is being attacked by an alien probe approaching from space.  The probe’s message was the song of the Humpback whale which, unfortunately, was extinct at the time.  So the crew, led by Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) and Captain Spock (Leonard Nemoy), time traveled back to 1986 to try and find some whales to bring back to the future.

The Star Trek adventure turns into a clever “fish-out-of-water” story as the crew interacts with the world of 1986, the medical community, the language, the engineering.  Some of the lines of dialogue from the deadpan Spock are very funny.

The crew split into groups, each with vital missions in the past, in order for them to accomplish their mission and return to their own timeline.  The time travel aspect here is not really touched on much, though they implicate some ideas that, may or may not, work together.

The fact that this movie is willing to not take itself deathly serious really makes this a fun movie to watch.

Catherine Hicks joined the cast of the movie as the 20th century marine biologist Dr. Gillian Taylor, who helped Kirk and Spock find the humpback whales.  She is a nice addition to the group, if not fairly unnecessary.

In the end, this was a lot of fun.  I disagree with the complaints of the bits of the whale being dumb or that it is too preachy.  The reasons behind the probe communicating in whale song is unimportant.  It is simply a plot point to lead to the adventure.  And a message of preserving the animals of the world cannot be bad.


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Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

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Almost three years ago, I saw the remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express starring Kenneth Branagh.  I had never seen the 1974 version, and, though I did not hate the new version, I did not love it either.  I thought maybe one day I would watch the original, but, with the knowledge of the solution, it did not become a top priority.

Seeing it on Amazon Prime, I decided that this was the perfect chance to see the murder mystery.  I am glad I did.

When noted Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) wound up on the Orient Express, he found himself in the middle of a murder mystery.  American businessman Ratchett (Richard Widmark), who had approached Poirot to be his bodyguard on the train (which Poirot refused), was found dead in his cabin, Poirot began an investigation which was hampered by red herrings and the train being stalled by an avalanche of snow in remote Yugoslavia.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, this film featured a remarkable cast of Hollywood stars, led by Finney, including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Martin Balsam, and Michael York.

Even though I knew the eventual solution to the mystery, the process getting their by Hercule Poirot was fun and entertaining.  Finney was just wonderful as the Belgian detective flexing his “little grey cells.”  Much of the fun of watching Poirot piece together the seemingly unsolvable case is truly part of the pleasure.

There is a definite flair to the look of the movie, style throughout.  The direction of the film is impeccable.

The only piece that might knock this down a bit is that the solution is something that is far fetched.  Still, it really works here and became iconic in mysteries moving forward.

The Murder on the Orient Express (1974) was beautifully done and expertly put together.  It features one of the strongest casts you will ever see and a great mystery.  Hercule Poirot deserves his spot as one of the most epic of the “gentlemen detectives.”


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Stand By Me (1986)

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I thought that I had already reviewed this one for Doc’s Classic Movies Reviewed, but I could not find it on my list.  So, since I had started it on Roku, I figured I could finish it and review it.

Rob Reiner directed Stand By Me, one of my favorite movies.  Reiner has directed at least two others that I loved totally, The Princess Bride and This is Spinal Tap.  Stand By Me is the third.

Four friends discover where the body of a missing kid was at and they decide to travel along the train tracks to find the boy to become famous.  Along the way, the kids face challenges and dangers.

The four boys, played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell, are remarkably well developed. Wil Wheaton is Gordie Lechance, a boy with the skill of storytelling whose brother died recently in a car crash.  River Phoenix is Chris Chambers, a boy from a rotten family who is seen as a thief.  These two are you main characters of the film and receive the most development.  Gordie’s older self (played and voiced by Richard Dreyfuss) acts as the narrator for the story and has the most powerful of arcs.

Corey Feldman played Teddy Duchamp, a kid whose father was abusive and held his ear to the stove.  Duchamp was an extremely complex character and they do a lot with less time with him.  Finally, Jerry O’Connell, in his film debut, played Vern, the least developed kid in the group but the one with the most innocence.

The interactions between these four characters are funny, powerful and real.  These kids talked like kids talk and they acted like 12-year olds.  The is a real depth to them all.  Even Vern, who is the least damaged of the crew, is more than what you see on the surface.

Kiefer Sutherland was here too, playing one of the biggest a-holes in the film as Ace.  Ace and his gang of thugs were one of the conflicts that the boys had to face and the stand off with them in the third act was full of tension.  There was also one of the most anxiety-filled scenes ever involving the boys, a bridge and a train.  I remember holding my breath the first time I saw that scene and today, it was every bit as suspenseful.

The story telling of this movie was great.  It set up scenes throughout the film and showed us how each one was important to the kids.  There was little wasted in the film and had purpose.  The writing was beautiful and the dialogue, particularly with the kids was spot on.

Based on a Stephen King short story called The Body, Stand By Me is a masterful tale of a group of kids and their path to adulthood.  It is a brilliant movie.


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The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

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One of the great disaster movies in the history of cinema is the next movie that I wanted to see.  The Poseidon Adventure is filled with stars who spend the entire film yelling at each other.

That is a bit of an exaggeration, but Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine absolutely spend the entire film in conflict with one another which took the form of screaming.

A group of people are trapped after their cruise ship gets hit by a tidal wave and flips upside down, sending the passengers into chaotic desperation trying to survive.

Yeller#1 was Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman) who clashed with police officer and yeller #2 Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine).  The two of them disagreed over just about everything.  Somehow, most of the survivors looked to the Reverend instead of the cop and followed him as they struggled to find their way to the engine room.

My favorite character was Mrs. Rosen (Shelley Winters) who was married to Grandpa Joe… err…ummm… I mean Mr. Rosen (Jack Albertson).  I related to Mrs. Rosen the most and I really found her sweet and compelling.  SPOILER— I actually gasped when she had her heart attack in the movie after swimming to save Reverend Scott.  It was easily the saddest part of the film.

In fact, most of the characters are pretty well developed.  Sure, the female characters are written (except for Mrs. Rosen) to be victims or weak willed girls, scared and needing to be saved, but it was the 1970s.  That is the biggest part of the film that does not hold up.

And… Leslie Nielsen is the ship’s captain.  That was weird.  I mean… I wonder if he starred in the spoof of the film as well.

The Poseidon Adventure was tense and exciting, with characters that I cared about (mostly) and decent effects.  I did spend too much time trying to see if this looked like an upside down ship, though.  This was one of the better disaster films around although that may not say much.


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Anaconda (1997)

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Thank you, Brett Sheridan.

Brett Sheridan is one of the comedians who work on SEN Live, a show on the Schmoedown Entertainment Network along with Kristian Harloff and others. Brett does an imitation of Jon Voight as Paul Serone in Anaconda.

I had not seen Anaconda since the RiffTrax guys riffed it a few years ago,  but Brett’s imitation was funny so I chose today, as I was searching for something to watch, to rewatch the monster movie.

Do you know what?  Brett’s imitation was pretty spot on.  More so than I remembered.  His imitation helped to make this movie more watchable, just as the RiffTrax guys did.

Because this movie is horrible.

There are so many just campy, ridiculous, unintentionally funny moments in this movie that it makes one wonder if they were actually making a comedy.

I mean… flaming snake.  Vomiting Jon Voight up. The backwards waterfall.  Voight’s character in the first place.  Catching Jonathan Hyde in midair.  The inside shot of the anaconda’s mouth as she consumed Voight.

Seriously, there are comedy movies with fewer laughs than this one.

So this is one of those films that are hard to grade because I had a heck of a lot of fun watching it, but it is utterly horrible.  It was not meant to be as funny as it turned out.  It was meant to be a tense thriller.  It was not that.  It was a ridiculous mess.

I mean… that backward waterfall…

But, I laughed.  So it is going to get..


Thanks Brett.

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As Good As It Gets (1997)

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Don’t be pessimistic.  It’s not your style.” -Melvin Udall.

As Good As It Gets is an Oscar winning movie that is the next film in the Social Distancing Binge-A-Thon starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. It features another character whose life is all about social distancing.

Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is a famous recluse author with obsessive compulsive disorder and plenty of bigoted tendencies.  When his gay neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear) gets beaten up, Melvin had to dog sit and forms a connection with the dog.  Meanwhile, Melvin’s OCD insists that he is served breakfast by the same waitress, Carol (Helen Hunt) and when he son becomes sick, her absence drives Melvin to do some uncharacteristic things.

I really like this movie.  I find it really charming and it has a ton of heart.  Nicholson and Kinnear are amazing and their developing relationship is one of the film’s best parts.  The writing is extremely smart and witty.  There are a lot of great things in As Good As It Gets.

There is one problem with the movie is the relationship between Melvin and Carol.  In the end, they wind up together, but I just cannot see why she would agree to enter a relationship with him.  Yes, he helped her son, but that is not the basis for a long term relationship.  He is such a rotten person, and, yes, he has troubles, but I find it hard to accept that he would make as much of a change as the movie implies.   I also kept thinking about the age difference between these two. I think it was meant to be closer than what it actually was, but I could not get it out of my mind.

If you can get past that, there is a whole lot to love in this movie.


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Sunset Boulevard (1950)

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All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” -Norma Desmond.

One of the most iconic quotes in the history of movie making can be found in Billy Wilder’s all-time classic Sunset Boulevard, the next film on the Social Distancing Binge-A-Thon.

This is another iconic movie that I had never seen before, but know a little about.  Obviously, I was aware, as any cinephile is, about the scene that ends the movie with aging actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) descending her staircase through a throng of people.  I had little to no context for the scene, I just knew it existed.

Sunset Boulevard tells the tragic story of struggling writer Joe Gillis (William Holden), who accidentally comes across Norma’s run-down mansion one day, starting up a relationship with the starlet as a companion.  Norma is desperate to make a return to the big screen and has Joe work on a script that she had written.

Norma’s mental status was questionable as she seemed delusional at times and had been shown as suicidal as well.  She was happy with the relationship with Joe and with the chance of her script being directed by Cecil B. DeMille, a director she had worked with in her heyday.

The movie was wonderful.  There was dark humor, depressing moods, and plenty of drama.  It was very similar to the noir films, as we hear Joe’s voice over as the movie progressed.   The film grabbed me immediately with a body floating in the pool, which I had not expected.  It then took a flashback to tell how the story had gotten to this point.  I was fully enthralled from the very beginning.

There were a bunch of cameos from famous people playing themselves, including Cecil B. DeMille, gossip columnist Hedda Hooper, actor Buster Keaton, Anna Q, and H.B. Warner.

Sunset Boulevard is one of the best films about Hollywood ever made and presents the negatives toward the lifestyle even more than the positives.  Norma Desmond was driven mad by her longing for the screen and her life was filled with excesses and money that simple could not fill the hole in her heart.  She desperately tried to hold on to love and the idolization that she had lost and brazenly ignored the realities facing her.

No one leaves a star. That’s what makes one a star.” Norma Desmond, a character practicing social distancing for a whole different reason.


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Stage Fright (1950)

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I have watched my second Alfred Hitchcock film of the day for the Social Distancing Binge-A-Thon.  The latest film of Hitchcock that I watched was called Stage Fright.

Another great murder mystery from the Master of Suspense, and another movie that I had not seen before.

In Stage Fright, a struggling actress named Eve (Jane Wyman) tries to help Jonathan (Richard Todd), a friend who had been accused of murdering the husband of a famous actress named Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich).  Jonathan was on the run from the police and wound up getting assistance from Eve and her father (Alastair Sim).

Jonathan claimed that Charlotte had committed the crime and was framing him for the murder.  Eve agreed to help by investigating herself, but after meeting the detective in charge of the case, Inspector Wilford Smith (Michael Wilding), she fell in love for real.

There are several twists in the story as the film progressed.  Some of the story felt a tad implausible, but the acting was solid.  In particular, Marlene Dietrich was the top level diva/femme fatale in the movie.  There is an iciness about her that really makes you believe that she was a cold-blooded murderer.

Jane Wyman is wonderful as the in-over-her-head Eve.  She created a character that was easy to root for, appearing naive, yet strong enough to be believable.  And you feel for Inspector Smith as he is getting the wool pulled over his eyes, which should not happen to the led detective in a murder case.

Meanwhile, the bumbling of Alastair Sim, best known for his role as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, brings a dark humor to the situation.

The film looks fantastic, shot in black and white.  The imagery of the film creates the mood beautifully, helping to continue the feeling of dread that lingers with the audience.  It builds the suspense and the uncertainty of what is happening throughout the movie.

The ending was well done and helped punctuate a solid film.  This is another top notch Hitchcock movie.  Wyman and Dietrich the clear standouts in the well done thriller.


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The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

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It is Sunday morning on Day Three of the Social Distancing Binge-A-Thon (how long will it go???) and it is time for a little Alfred Hitchcock.

The Man Who Knew Too Much was a remake of a previous film by Alfred Hitchcock, a thriller involving an assassination attempt on a Prime Minister.

Dr, Benjamin McKenna (James Stewart), his wife Jo (Doris Day) and their son Hank (Christopher Olson) were on a trip through Europe and Africa, ending up in Marrakesh.  The couple accidentally wound up in the middle of an international assassination plot which led to their son being kidnapped to keep them quiet.

There were a lot of tense moments in the movie and James Stewart and Doris Day were fantastic.  I have not seen the original Hitchcock version from 1934, but this one is very strong.

I especially enjoyed the strength of Jo in the movie.  In a time when women were seen as secondary characters, Doris Day provided a strength to her that was uncommon.  Sure, she had some of the typical “female” tropes of the time, but she also was right in the middle of the plot, coming up with some vitally important information and was central in the storyline.

Plus, she could sing.  I had no idea that this is where the song “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” was from. It won an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song.  Songs like that just seem to be forever songs and to see where it came from was amazing.

Hitchcock is the master of suspense and he pulls plenty of it in this film.  The villainous pair that kidnap Hank did a great job as the antagonists here.  Played by Bernard Miles and Brenda de Banzie, the Draytons were impressive as the villains.

The third act of the film was filled with tension and excitement.  It picked up the film that had started to slag a tad.  This is a longer version than the 1934 one and you can feel it.  The 1956 version could probably have trimmed 10-15 minutes off and it would have been more taut.

Still, this was another classic from Hitchcock.  I have been quite the fan of his work and the performances of Stewart and Day carry the film.


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