“The Blue Gardenia” (1953) starring Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, & Raymond Burr

In LA, on her birthday, telephone operator Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter), dresses up and makes a nice dinner at home. She sits w/ the picture of her fiance (a soldier in the Korean War) and starts to read his most recent letter. It turns out that he’s in love w/ an Army nurse who helped him recover and plans to marry her! Norah, though very upset/vulnerable, accepts a blind date from a man that calls up her place (wanting to reach one of her roommates). This man is an artist and noted “wolf” w/ women- Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr). He and Norah chat, eat Chinese food, and drink at the Blue Gardenia Club. Norah has some strong cocktails w/ rum (Polynesian Pearl Divers) and gets drunk. Harry takes her to his place and forces himself on her; Norah hits him w/ a poker on the head. The next morning, she wakes up at her own apt, but can’t remember what happened the previous night! In the newspaper, Norah reads that Harry is dead; also the police have her handkerchief, black pumps, and the blue gardenia she wore. Casey Mayo (Richard Conte), a star columnist, takes an interest in the murder case. Norah starts suffering from anxiety, thinking that she killed Harry.

The iconic musician, Nat “King” Cole, is seen at the piano singing the theme song- “The Blue Gardenia”- in the club. The police captain who has a friendly rivalry w/ Casey is played by George Reeves (who gained fame as TV’s Superman). Norah’s divorced/wise roommate, Crystal (Ann Sothern), notices her friend’s change in mood/behavior. Their quirky younger roommate, Sally (Jeff Donnell), prefers bloody thrillers by Mickey Mallet to a night out. This is an obvious spoof on Mickey Spillane, known for his Mike Hammer novels. There is another Hammer connection which noir-istas might notice; the photo of Norah’s fiance is that of actor Ralph Meeker (who played Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly).

This is considered a lesser noir from a master of the genre, director Fritz Lang; it was shot in only 20 days. Lang and cinematographer (Nicholas Musuraca) developed a revolutionary dolly for the camera that allowed for sustained tracking shots and intimate close-ups. Lang liked tracking into a close-up shot of an actor over cutting to a close-up later in editing. I liked the interplay between the roommates, the chemistry between Baxter and Conte, the music, and the mood. The ending is wrapped up too neatly and feels rushed. The story was by Vera Caspary, who also wrote Scandal Sheet, Laura, and A Letter to Three Wives. I saw it (for free) on YouTube.

[1] Fritz Lang made a specialty in harassed and harried protagonists getting themselves into some real jackpots… These are people who in fact were guilty. For the first time however Lang’s harried protagonist is a woman and Anne gives a great performance.

[2] One thing this film has going for itself is atmosphere. Making it all seem relevant is the featured song, more than just a theme, an integral part of the movie, sung by the enchanting man with the melodious voice, Nat “King” Cole, who makes a much too brief appearance…

Besides the hypnotic melody, the interplay among the three room mates, Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter), Crystal Carpenter (Ann Sothern), and Sally Ellis (Jeff Donnell), represents the apex of this enjoyable Fritz Lang outing… If “The Blue Gardenia” is to be classified at all, it would possibly be labeled lighter Noir.

[3] I am surprised that so many people who review it here seem not to grasp it. They complain about lack of suspense… It’s about Anne Baxter, the world through her point of view. Her life is a beautiful dream of hopes of love and happiness for the future, which turns into a horrible nightmare that spirals downward with sickening realism and pathos.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock on the Law: “The Paradine Case” (1947) starring Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Louis Jourdan, & Alida Valli

Sir Simon Flaquer: [about Mrs. Paradine] You’ll find her a strange woman with an almost mystical charm.

London police charge a young woman, Maddalena Paradine (Italian actress Alida Valli), w/ the murder of her older/blind/British husband, retired Col. Richard Paradine. She’s a woman w/ a past, but became wealthy/glamorous b/c of her marriage. Her solicitor, Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn), refers the case to his friend/colleague, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck). While spending time building her defense, Tony becomes infatuated w/ Mrs. Paradine, threatening his long/happy marriage to Gay (Ann Todd). Tony goes to the country estate where the Paradines previously lived; he sees the grand house and meets the valet, Andre Latour (French actor Louis Jourdan).

Mrs. Paradine: It won’t shock you, I assume, to learn that I am a woman, what would you say, a woman who has seen a great deal of life.

I’m sure there some readers who don’t want to take sleeping pills, so maybe this movie will do the trick (LOL)! How can such a great cast (incl. theater veterans) be wasted? While Sir Alfred Hitchcock (personally) liked the actors, he felt that Peck (w/ white streaked hair to age him up), Valli (one-note and lacking charm), and Jourdan (handsome/intense) were unsuited for their roles. Producer David O. Selznick insisted that the director use them. Judge Horfield’s (Charles Laughton) nervous/bullied wife, Sophie (Ethel Barrymore), had several scenes cut; this will be obvious to astute viewers.

Gay Keane [joking w/ Tony]: I wouldn’t like a woman to be hanged, any woman, just because my husband had a rendezvous with her. In jail.

This movie (part melodrama/part courtroom drama) was nearly as expensive as Gone with the Wind (1939)! Selznick constantly interfered w/ Hitch’s production, incl. having him do many re-shoots. Selznick supervised editing (the movie feels long) and the (over-the-top) musical score from Franz Waxman. This was Hitch’s last movie in his contract w/ Selznick; it’s not very suspenseful (though the trial was somewhat interesting). I liked some of the dialogue; the domestic scenes between Peck (only 30) and Todd (10 yrs. older than her leading man) were done very well.

Judy Flaquer: Men are such horrible beasts. I wish I were married to Anthony Keane for just one hour. I’d make him jump through hoops.

Sir Simon: I wish you were married to someone. Perhaps he could put up with your clap-clap better than I can!

Though The Paradine Case was a box-office failure, critics praised two performances. Time Magazine (January 12, 1948) wrote: “The only characters who come sharply to life are the barrister’s wife (Ann Todd) and her confidante (Joan Tetzel).” Also, Variety wrote: “Ann Todd delights as his wife, giving the assignment a grace and understanding that tug at the emotions.” Judy (Tetzel) could be thought of as the precursor to Barbara Morton (played by Hitch’s daughter- Patricia) in Strangers on a Train (1951); they’re both single, intelligent, and fascinated w/ crime (which could be considered “unfeminine”).

[1] Many viewers feel let down by the film because it lacks the energy and excitement found in most of Hitchcock’s films, and because the courtroom setting creates expectations that are not quite filled.

Many Hitchcock fans will not particularly enjoy this one…

[2] I like Peck normally, but in this film, he’s too young and never convincingly English, despite his accent. Even without the accent, he doesn’t suggest someone who is passionately and irrationally swept away, as the role calls for.

[3] THE PARADINE CASE is generally conceded as among Hitchcock’s lesser films. It’s most interesting parts of the performances of the leads (except for Alida Valli, who is quite dull), and the famous sequence of the portrait of Valli whose eyes seem to follow the camera (standing in for Gregory Peck/Anthony Keane) as it passes from one room to the next.

[4] It is not typical Hitchcock, and fails to fascinate the audience. The high point is the verbal clashes between Laughton and Peck (sometimes assisted by Leo G. Carroll as the prosecutor), Jourdan’s collapse in the witness box when Keane attacks him for secretly betraying his master with the defendant, and Valli’s final condemnation of Keane in court.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Mother of All Horrors: Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, & Martin Balsam

Marion: Oh, we can see each other. We can even have dinner but respectably in my house with my mother’s picture on the mantel and my sister helping me broil a big steak for three.

Sam: And after the steak, do we send Sister to the movies? Turn mama’s picture to the wall?

A secretary in Phoenix, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), is tired of how her life is going. She has to meet her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), on lunch breaks at a cheap hotel. Sam has to pay alimony to his ex-wife and lives in the back of his hardware store, so thinks they can’t yet get married. One Friday, Marion is trusted to take $40,000 to the bank by her boss. (Pat Hitchcock plays Marion’s co-worker.) Marion decides to steal this money and head to Sam’s town in Northern California. When she’s caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into the Bates Motel. It’s managed by a young man, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who seems to be dominated by his mother. Later on, we meet others, incl. Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) and a PI named Mr. Arbogast (Martin Balsam).

Marion: Do you go out with friends?

Norman: A boy’s best friend is his mother.

Psycho (iconic to modern viewers, yet controversial in its day) was made b/c Sir Alfred Hitchcock wanted to experiment w/ a sparser style of filmmaking. He used a crew mostly of TV veterans (incl. from his show– Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and hired actors who weren’t yet well-known. Hitch bought the rights to the novel from writer Robert Bloch for a mere $9,000. He also bought up as many copies of the book as he could find (to keep the ending a secret). Before cast/crew began work, they had to raise their right hands and promise not to reveal one word of the story. Hitch didn’t even tell his cast the ending until he needed to shoot it. The director made all the movie theater owners sign a contract that they wouldn’t let anyone in until the start of the film. Once they were late, they’d not be let in until the next showing. This started the process of mandatory seating times at theaters which continues today!

Norman: It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

Marion: Yes. Sometimes just one time can be enough.

Paramount gave Hitch a small budget (under $1M), b/c of the studio’s distaste of the source material. He shot in black-and-white b/c he thought it’d be too gory in color and to save money. The studio gave 60% of the proceeds to Hitch (in lieu of a salary), thinking the movie would fail. Though most film critics hated it, Psycho was a big hit and Hitch ended up earning over $15 million- LOL! Hitch was so happy w/ the strings-only score (by Bernard Herrmann) that he doubled the famed composer’s salary. Hitch commented: “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.” The director originally wanted the shower scene to be silent, but Herrmann scored it anyway; Hitchcock immediately changed his mind when he heard the music!

Arbogast: All right, then let’s say for the sake of argument that she needed your help and that she made you out to be a fool in helping her…

Norman: Well, I’m not a fool. And I’m not capable of being fooled! Not even by a woman.

In the novel, Norman is short, fat, older, and unlikable; Hitch decided to re-imagine him as a “boy next door” type. He cast Perkins (his first choice) who has an earnest quality; he is tall and thin w/ boyish looks. Perkins does a terrific job, creating a subtle, creepy, and very unsettling young man. The dinner conversation w/ Marion (amidst the stuffed birds) is a scene studied by budding filmmakers in school. Sam is in most ways the polar opposite of Norman; he represents ’50s “old school” masculinity, while Norman suffers from gender confusion. Sam is bossy w/ the women around him; Norman is timid. Sam’s relationship w/ Marion is portrayed as healthy, but Norman’s relationship w/ her is predatory. Hitch didn’t want Gavin for the role of Sam, but the studio insisted (b/c of his “beefcake” status). Looking back, viewers thought Gavin did a fine job w/ the role.

The structure of this film is rare for its time. We think the protagonist will be Marion, but then the focus shifts to Norman; eventually we follow Lila and Sam. Lila (introduced just before the 1 hr. mark) may be conventional when compared to the risk-taking Marion, but she’s a determined woman also. Miles and Leigh look like they really could be sisters. Arbogast doesn’t have a big role, but he has a fine scene w/ Norman. Hitchcock wasn’t a fan of authority figures; notice how the highway patrolman is portrayed in a sinister manner (never even removing his sunglasses). Many have commented how they hated the scene just before the ending (as did Hitch); the studio insisted on having the psychiatrist wrap things up for the audience.

[1] We can see that he is moody when he angrily leans forward and delivers an angry, though controlled tirade against putting people in institutions. Every camera angle and line of dialogue in this scene has meaning and carries enormous weight, and yet the drama plays out in a light, relaxed mode, and the performers seems truly connected to one another at its conclusion, strangers no more.

[2] …this movie doesn’t have the shock value today for audiences

But, what you WILL see in this movie is (1) superb acting; (2) a fascinating lead character; (3) excellent photography, and (4) a bizarre story.

[3] You can feel the decade literally shifting out of ’50s and into ’60s with this one. Norman Rockwell touches abound, like the decor of the motel, but look at what’s going on around it. People dress well, they still wear fedoras and jackets, but in their tense conversations and hooded gazes, you can feel the culture just ticking away like a time bomb waiting to explode.

Most especially, there’s Anthony Perkins, who plays motel clerk Norman Bates in a very oddly naturalistic way, complete with facial tics and half-swallowed words, not the polished image one expected to see then.

– Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Murder by Contract” (1958)

Claude (Vince Edwards) is a young man who recently held a regular job and has no history of trouble w/ the law. He also has the arrogance, intelligence, and emotional detachment to become a hit man, as he proves to Mr. Moon (a go-between to a crime boss). A string of successful hits on the East Coast gets Claude sent to LA for his latest job. He is accompanied by two minders (George and Marc): one is often nervous (Herschel Bernardi) and the other comes to admire Claude for his cool demeanor (Phillip Pine). Though self-assured in his previous kills, Claude becomes unglued learning that the target is a woman. She’s a witness set to testify against Clause’s boss, so under police protection 24/7. Claude is worried b/c women are unpredictable- they don’t do what you expect!

Claude: The only type killing that’s safe is when a stranger kills a stranger. No motive. Nothing to link the victim to the executioner. Now why would a stranger kill a stranger? Because somebody’s willing to pay. It’s business. Same as any other business.

I’m sure that the writer was thinking of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) when he came up w/ the above lines! You have to be in a certain mood to enjoy this type of movie; it has a lot of style, though not much dialogue. Edwards looks a bit dangerous, yet also handsome, and is comfortable in his role. He is tall (6’2″), athletic (a former swimmer), w/ thick dark hair and dark eyes. The film has some comic moments when Claude unsettles the two men sent to accompany him. Scorcese and Tarantino consider this to be one of their favorite B-movies.

[1] Is he worried about killing her because he has more moral fiber than he would like to admit or is it genuinely harder to kill a woman? Whatever the case, this is a fascinating look into a dangerous mind.

[2] Stylish direction and some interesting camera work compliment a thoughtful script. Be watching for one particularly unsettling scene which unfolds in a barber shop.

[3] Vince Edwards’ character… was also fun to enjoy. His dialogue, and just the way he carried himself through this film, was fascinating.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock Takes on Psychoanalysis: “Spellbound” (1945) starring Ingrid Bergman & Gregory Peck

Title Card: The fault… is not in our stars, but in ourselves… – Shakespeare

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a young psychiatrist who has been working for 6 mos. at Green Manors mental institute in Vermont. In between dealing w/ her patients and reading the latest theories, she has to deal w/ a doctor incessantly hitting on her. The director of Green Manors, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), has just been replaced; his replacement is the young Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), who has published several books (incl. one focused on “the guilt complex”). Romance quickly develops between Dr. Petersen and Dr. Edwardes, but then he starts to show strange aversions and personality traits. It turns out that he has amnesia! Could he be guilty of a crime, or is it all in his head? What happened to the real Dr. Edwardes?

Dr. Petersen: I think the greatest harm done the human race has been done by the poets. …They keep filling people’s heads with delusions about love… writing about it as if it were a symphony orchestra or a flight of angels.

Suspicion was of the first Hollywood films to deal w/ the (then popular) subject of psychoanalysis; screenwriter Ben Hecht consulted w/ several psychoanalysts of that time. Producer David O. Selznick wanted the movie to be based on his experiences, even bringing in his psychotherapist as a technical advisor. When she argued w/ Sir Alfred Hitchcock on the set, the director replied, “My dear, it’s only a movie.” Later, Hitch summed up the movie as “just another manhunt wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis.” If the psychology angle doesn’t interest you, the love story certainly will! Bergman and Peck have terrific chemistry; as a kid, I wondered if they really were in love. In 1987 (5 yrs after she died), Peck revealed to People magazine that he “had a great love for Bergman.” They had an affair for a few weeks during filming (though both were married)!

Dr. Alex Brulov: Apparently the mind is never too sick to make jokes about psychoanalysis.

The much-discussed dream sequence (designed by painter Salvador Dali) was originally 20 mins long, but ended up being 2 mins. Hitch handed over that segment to director William Cameron Menzies, who is not credited (as he didn’t like the final edit). The music (composed by Miklos Rozsa) is also a prominent aspect enhancing the story. Jerry Goldsmith said he loved the score; it inspired his own music. Some Star Wars fans have pointed out the Anakin and Padme’s love theme (composed by John Williams) sounds similar to the love theme here!

I couldn’t produce the facial expressions that Hitch wanted turned on. I didn’t have that facility. He already had a preconception of what the expression ought to be on your face, he planned that as carefully as the camera angles. Hitchcock was an outside fellow, and I had the Stanislavski training from the Neighborhood Playhouse, which means you work from the inside. –Gregory Peck

[1] Now the best thing about ‘Spellbound’ and what really makes it into a wonderfully entertaining mystery/romance is Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. These two Golden Age superstars are both absolutely wonderful individually, but together they are magical

[2] The scenes with Bergman, Peck and Chekhov are the highlight of the film, and I have to admit that I’m even kind of fond of the hotel lobby scene, with the appealingly breezy Bill Goodwin (of “Burns and Allen” radio fame) as the house detective. Peck has never been more handsome, in a strangely fragile way.

[3] Most of the picture is thrown Bergman’s way and she is such an accomplished actress and lights up the screen with such a charismatic inner radiance

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews