This collection of films is thanks to TCM, the channel which shows old movies and which has turned out to have a host of films I’ve heard of but never actually seen. What better time to remedy this?
Film #31: Gaslight
It’s weird to finally see this movie because it’s actually had a lasting impact as the origin of the phrase “gaslighting”, the manipulative technique that causes people to doubt their own sanity. Of course, this is a remake of an earlier British movie, but this includes the bigger names, Ingrid Bergman in the lead and Angela Lansbury making her on screen debut, which bagged her an Oscar nomination right out of the gate.
That’s what the villain does here, trying to drive Ingrid Bergman’s Paula round the bend to cover up his criminal activities. It turns out he bumped off her aunt several years earlier, but couldn’t find the jewels which motivated the crime. Now, having seduced her and moved into her aunt’s old place, he uses misdirection and manipulation to trick Paula as he attempts to find the jewels. If she’s carted off to the nuthouse he can search undisturbed.
It’s aged badly in places, due to the slightly stagy style of performance, and Bergman in particular is a bit hammy. It also doesn’t help that instead of playing the villain with ambiguity it’s pretty obvious early on that he’s a wrong’un. Still, it has an old fashioned charm and it’s quite a clever idea. 5/10.
Film #33: Strangers on a Train
Another movie that despite never having watched it I was familiar with the idea, it having been ripped off on pretty much every US crime show. The central conceit is that two men meet on a train, as the title suggests, they don’t know each other but both talk about troublesome figures in their life. It also highlights the dangers of talking to others on public transport.
Tennis player Guy (Farley Granger) is in love and wants to marry but is already wed to a wife he can’t stand, divorce still being a little bit of a taboo it’s not ideal but what he wants. His companion Bruno (Robert Walker), wants to be rid of his father and suggests they bump off the other’s problem, it being the perfect crime.
Guy thinks he’s a weirdo and tries to laugh it off, but Bruno actually whacks Guy’s wife, which is pretty bad as Guy is the prime suspect- he has a motive and witnesses saw him argue with the victim earlier the same day. Bruno, being a total nutbar, thinks that Guy owes him and when denied, decides that he will frame Guy for his wife’s murder.
It’s a neat premise, and handled rather well, with the shift in gears as Bruno switches tactic from pressuring Guy to kill to trying to frame him. Hitchcock does a good job building tension and the plot does a good job in slowly building the tension and having the net tighten around our hero. Alibis don’t pan out, incriminating evidence appears and Bruno’s schemes look set to pay off.
It’s a solid thriller and while not Hitchcock’s best a decent, engaging watch, although ruined slightly by the idea having been ripped off by all and sundry ever since. 7/10.
Film #34: The Big Sleep
Humphrey Bogart is at his sarky, hardboiled best here as Philip Marlowe, a PI hired to help a wealthy client with a blackmail case involving his daughter. From there on Marlowe gets entangled in a far more complicated case with multiple players and which involves murder, organised crime and various schemes.
It’s all marvellously convoluted stuff, with Marlowe moving through it all surviving on his wits, throwing punches and delivering wry remarks along the way. He’s a pretty tough customer, keeping his cool throughout and able to work his way through all the twists and turns of the case.
The dialogue has that classic, fast paced Golden Age vibe, full of witty turns of phrase, small quips and clever lines. It also benefits from delightful sparring relationship between Marlowe and his client’s eldest daughter, Vivian, played by Lauren Bacall, Bogie’s off screen partner. They have such charisma and spark off each other extremely well.
It’s a little chaotic, with a lot going on, but it’s a well done, clever and entertaining film noir thriller. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.