Fourteen Hours (1951)- Henry Hathaway

 ★★★★★

 

The idea of a film centered around one desperate man standing on the ledge of a New York building is a difficult one because there are so many unanswered questions that arise. How do you keep the audience entertained when, in all actuality, very little is happening? How do you deal with a main character that just stands there, and in fact, doesn’t even really want to talk to anyone? And finally, what happens at the end of the film?  Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)All of these questions had to have played heavily on director Henry Hathaway’s mind when filming his noir, suspense drama, “Fourteen Hours” (1951), but fortunately his talent for great storytelling and an extensive cast of sensational actors help turn this possibly entertaining film into a memorable movie, with an exorbitant amount of humanity under the surface.

In a New York City hotel, an emotionally tormented young man named Robert (Richard Basehart) steps out his window onto the ledge. The moment of desperation is seen from the street below by a traffic cop, Charlie (Paul Douglas). Charlie rushes up to the room where he sits on the ledge as well, trying patiently to get Robert to come back inside.

The event turns into a circus, with people filling the streets below, engrossed by the human drama that has presented itself to them. Taxi drivers place bets on what time he will jump, people walking to work stop, frozen, waiting to see what will happen. Even the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is cancelled. Richard Basehart and Barbara Bel Geddes in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)Obviously with a title like “Fourteen Hours”, you can guess that things aren’t resolved quickly, as every step towards a resolution just seems to make things worse.

The acting in this movie is the kind of stuff that directors dream about. Richard Basehart gives a towering performance as the sad, mentally unstable young man at his own personal crossroad. It amazes me how intense he is without being able to move more than a couple of inches the entire picture. He acts through his expressions. He eyes speak for him (his fear, his anger, and regret) present themselves with little dialogue and almost no physicality. It’s Paul Douglas who does most of the talking. The majority of his dialogue goes unanswered…but he keeps talking anyway. He is the driving force of the script, but being an amazing actor, he knows that he can’t take the focus off of Basehart, Richard Basehart in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)so Douglas keeps his perfect performance controlled.

The aspect that helps “Fourteen Hours” to shine is the inclusion of sub-plots that transpire during the 14 hours, and the performances given by the enormous cast of supporting players. Both of Robert’s parents (Agnes Moorehead & Robert Keith) show up to “help”, but end up bringing back years of family dysfunction and drama. His former fiance (Barbara Bel Geddes) also arrives, with Bel Geddes giving a brief, but touchingly memorable performance. And then there are all the individuals involved indirectly, whether down on the street or hiding in the hotel, trying to come up with new ideas; Howard Da Silva as the police chief, Martin Gabel as a psychiatrist, Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget as two strangers who meet on the street, even Grace Kelly shows up in her screen debut as a woman in the midst of a divorce, who reconsiders after witnessing Robert’s plight. Everyone who appears on the screen adds to the film’s intensity by acting a human as possible.

It’s been said that “Fourteen Hours” is, possibly, Henry Hathaway’s best film. As a fan of westerns and film noir (both of which he made in abundance), it would be hard to pick which one of his classic pieces of cinema is “best”. He spent an entire career making great movies that all continue to be enthralling because of Richard Basehart and Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)his underrated skill as a director, and his uncanny ability to entertain an audience. “Fourteen Hours” is a unique film for him, and it is obvious that he was excited at the challenges that filming this type of story would offer. Although it has faded in popularity over the years, it is a film that deserves to be revisited and appreciated by a new audience.

Although “Fourteen Hours” goes out of its way to tell the audience that it wasn’t based on real events, the screenplay (masterfully penned by John Paxton) was based on an article in The New Yorker by Joel Sayre, who was in fact writing about the suicide of John William Warde in 1938. The details are quite different, but it did (unfortunately) serve as inspiration.

The Power of Hindsight: 1954 at the Movies

Time changes things; there’s no denying that it’s true. Movies are no different, and with each passing year, an individual film’s legacy is altered by how it is remembered and revered. Sometimes a film that is extremely popular upon its initial release tends to lose some of its glory. The Country Girl (1954)On the other hand there are many films that go unnoticed until years, sometimes decades later, and then suddenly we all seem to realize this brilliantly crafted masterpiece that has been staring us in the face the whole time.

For the most part, it is this idea that is the inspiration for this series I’ve entitled, “The Power of Hindsight”. I’ve already written on the year that was 1963, but this time I will go back to one of my favorite years in film, 1954. In order to make the definitive Lasso the Movies “Best of” list, I have carefully examined the films released in that year and have picked up to ten that I consider the very best- much in the same fashion that the Academy Award Best Picture nominees are chosen. The major difference in my selection process is that I am looking at a list of all films released in 1954, and not just released in America. (The foreign market is so often overlooked, especially during the 1950’s, but luckily we can now appreciate these films as well.)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

What I knew about 1954 is that I loved several films released in those short twelve months. What I didn’t know was how many amazing movies there would be vying for the coveted ten spots. In 1954, the Academy Awards only chose five Best Picture nominees. These films were:

“The Caine Mutiny”, “The Country Girl”, “On the Waterfront”, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, and “Three Coins in the Fountain”

On the Waterfront (1954)

All of these films are good in their own right, but when you examine the other releases, things become crowded… quickly.The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Another big award winner that year was “The Barefoot Contessa”, with Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien (who did win Best Supporting Actor). Director Otto Preminger released two musical films, the well liked “Carmen Jones”, staring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, and the financially successful “River of No Return”, with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum. Other musicals that year were the holiday favorite, “White Christmas”, the Frank Sinatra/Doris Day drama, “Young at Heart”, “Brigadoon” with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, and George Cukor’s remake of “A Star is Born”. The latter of which earned Academy Award nominations for both of its stars: James Mason and Judy Garland (in her comeback role).

A Star is Born (1954)

The foreign language market in 1954 is one of the greatest of all time as well, with many of the biggest names in directing history appearing one right after another. Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi released one of his greatest films, “Sansho the Bailiff”, in March, Jean Renoir’s “The French Cancan” came out in April, Roberto Rossellini’s “Journey to Italy” in September, and Luchino Visconti’s “Senso” came out in December. Seven Samurai (1954)Also coming out that year were two films that always seem to find their way towards the top of everyone’s “greatest all time” lists, Federico Fellini’s “La Strada” and Akira Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece, “The Seven Samurai”. I haven’t even mentioned Ishiro Honda’s “Godzilla”, which might not be considered the “highest quality” film ever made, but it’s legacy and significance can’t be overlooked, especially when examining a specific year.

Back in the English-speaking world, the great films were just as plentiful. Disney released their adaptation of the Jules Verne classic, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, to both critical and financial success, Dial M for Murder (1954)John Wayne starred and produced in the disaster drama, “The High and the Mighty”, not to mention the emotional and inspiring drama, “Salt of the Earth”. Alfred Hitchcock released two films that year: “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder”. I happen to think these are two of his finest films, which says a lot considering how much I admire his career. Grace Kelly appeared in both of those Hitchcock films (and won an Academy Award for “The Country Girl”), but she also starred alongside William Holden in well received “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” released in December.

Rear Window (1954)

Nicholas Ray directed the western “Johnny Guitar” that year, Douglas Sirk made “Magnificent Obsession”, the mystery/noir classic “Black Widow” came out, David Lean released “Hobson’s Choice”, and Edward Dmytryk (who also directed “The Caine Mutiny”) released his western, “Broken Lance”, starring Spencer Tracy.Sabrina (1954) Just in case all of these titles aren’t enough to make your head spin, Billy Wilder also released one of his all-time greats, “Sabrina” in 1954, which with star power and pitch-perfect writing has remained just as entertaining as ever; even almost 60 years later.

So how does someone only pick ten of these films? There are so many worthy choices, but with only ten spots, someone is going to get left out of the party. Looking at the five films that did get Academy Award nominations in 1954, “On the Waterfront” La Strada (1954)was the Best Picture winner that year, and deservingly so. It is hands-down one of the top twenty American films ever made, and will definitely make my final cut. I have decided that “The Caine Mutiny” and “The Country Girl” are still both deserving of being called “one of the best” also. They both are marvelously crafted, were directed and written extremely well, and offer some of the best acting performances you will ever find. The other two nominees, “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”,Hobson's Choice (1954) however, are going to be replaced on my list. I see why they were loved in 1954, but I don’t think they have won the test of time.

Continuing on, “Rear Window” is a film that seems to improve with time. It is widely considered Hitchcock’s third best film, behind “Vertigo” (1958) and “Psycho” (1960), and is ranked the 48th greatest American film on the last AFI poll. Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” was ranked the 17th greatest film of all time on Sight & Sound’s director’s poll and their critic’s poll in 2012. It was ranked above any other film from 1954 on both lists, thus securing itself a place on mine. Another film ranked highly on the Sight & Sound director’s poll was “La Strada”. The Caine Mutiny (1954)Although this isn’t a film that I would personally consider a favorite, I do see its importance and significance.

With the more “obvious” choices out-of-the-way, things got really tricky, but finally I was able to narrow it down to ten. Here they are, the ten films that I think represent the best in motion pictures 1954- and what a grouping it is, too.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)- Mark Robson

 ★★★

 

There is no denying that with stars like William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March and Mickey Rooney, the Korean War film, “The Bridges atThe Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955) Toko-Ri” (1954), is a movie that raises viewers’ expectations. Based on the novel by James Michener, this film is about naval aviator, Lt. Harry Brubaker (Holden), who is disgruntled about being recalled to active duty, following his years of service during WWII. After his jet crashes into the ocean, Brubaker is saved by Chief Mike Forney (Mickey Rooney) in his rescue helicopter. After this scare, Brubaker is worried about his future safety and he complains about being recalled to a war that “most American don’t even know is happening”, to his superior officer, Admiral Tarrant (Fredric March). Tarrant has formed an attachment to Brubaker because of his similarities to his own son, who died during WWII.

Their aircraft carrier reaches Japan, and Brubaker is given a three day shore leave, which has been perfectly timed with the arrival of his wife, Nancy (Grace Kelly), and their two The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955)children. They are able to spend some much desired time together, but Admiral Tarrant takes time to warn Nancy about the very dangerous upcoming mission where Brubaker will be attacking the heavily guarded bridges at Toko-Ri, and he urges her to come to grips with the fact that she could lose her husband.

Directed by Mark Robson, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is the most realistic, genuine Korean War film of its time. With much needed assistance from the United States Navy, the aerial sequences have a documentary feel to them which makes the overall film appear even more authentic. In the same respect, the special effects are marvelously handled, and because of The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955)the filmmakers attention to detail and authenticity, the film won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

At the time this film was released it was well received by both audiences and critics. With the surplus of war films that have been made in the years since, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” has become somewhat forgotten. Not because it’s lacking in any way, but the highlights of this film are in the effects which, although revolutionary at the time, quickly became the standard following this film’s release. In addition, the film lacks with the overall story because so much of the focus is on the breathtaking aerial footage and the battle sequence at the film’s climax. More scenes where the characters were interacting would have helped to improve upon the overall splendor of the film. That is of course not to imply that the The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955)actors weren’t great, because they were… just as individuals. Each performance is strong in its respective right, but as a whole they all could have involved more depth and chemistry, giving the film an ensemble quality, instead of just a group of strong, isolated performances. (Grace Kelly is hardly even in the film, and her scenes are easily forgettable.) It seems that the most memorable war films throughout the history of cinema are the ones that boast a strong cast from beginning to end. It doesn’t even require a perfect leading actor, as long as the entire cast works together to establish the film as an acting driven piece, instead of just an effects laden war movie.

Prior to “The Bridges on Toko-Ri”, war films rarely centered on combat scenes. Most of The Bridges at Toko-Ri (!955)these films were about the inner workings of the men fighting, and although this film also delves into that subject with several of the characters, the “action” scenes are more memorable than the acting scenes. In the years that followed, filmmakers began to master the balance between drama and action in a war film, and although “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is somewhat overlooked today, it should be remembered as one of the films that transitioned into today’s style of war filmmaking.

Dial M For Murder (1954)

★★★★★

 

Dial M For Murder (1954) is a suspense drama film, directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock. It is based on the play written by Frederick Knott and became the 16th highest grossing film of the year. It was filmed in the 3D format, but most theatersDial M For Murder showed it in the standard 2D since the novelty of 3D had begun to ware off by the time it was released. Now in 2012, 3D films have become popular once again and Dial M For Murder has been released through Warner Brothers on Blu-ray 3D, which also includes the standard 2D version on the same disc.

Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) is an unhappily married woman. Her husband, Tony (Ray Milland), has spent too much time and energy on his tennis career, and now Margot has wandered into the arms of a crime novel writer named Mark (Robert Cummings). What she doesn’t know is that her darling husband knows about her affair and has decided that in order to keep the luxurious lifestyle to which he has grown accustomed, he has to have her murdered and collect his Dial M For Murderinheritance.

For her murderer he has chosen an old classmate from college, Charles Swan (Anthony Dawson), whose past is filled with criminal activities. Tony has also decided to use Mark as his alibi the night of the murder. It’s all planned perfectly, if only everything would go according to plan.

Since Alfred Hitchcock made so many brilliant movies, it becomes hard to remember how wonderful each one is individually. In a since, Dial M For Murder has become one of Hitchcock’s most overlooked movies. It isn’t even considered his best movieDial M For Murder from 1954 because just two months after the release of Dial M For Murder, Hitchcock released Rear Window (1954). It also has the distinction of being the first collaboration with the marvelous Grace Kelly. They made three subsequent films together with Dial M For Murder, Rear Window and To Catch A Thief (1955), and I believe Hitchcock would have continued using Grace in every film he ever made if she was willing. (Just imagine Grace Kelly in The Birds (1963), Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) or even Psycho (1960)!) Their three movies Dial M For Murdertogether provide us with a glimpse of the power that a great director/actress relationship can have on films. Even when the divinely beautiful  Grace was matched up against some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, Hitchcock found a way to make her characters beautiful, sympathetic, adventurous and charming all at the same time.

For all the much-deserved credit that Grace Kelly has received for this movie, Ray Milland seems to have been forgotten. In my opinion, Milland gives one of the most cold-blooded, frightening performances ever. He is completely organized and methodical in his plan, and doesn’t even seem very upset about murdering his wife. He has know about her affair for over a year and insteadDial M For Murder of confronting her, he has let his anger fester until he has died emotionally. All that remains is the fanatical killer who is more concerned about his lavish lifestyle than this woman with whom he still spends each day and night. He even wants to listen on the phone while she is being killed! It is a phenomenal performance, filled with moments that are supposedly surprising to him, but in reality he just sits there playing along with the police.

Over the years there have been hundreds of movies about husbands trying to kill their wives, but Dial M For Murder will always stand out for me because Hitchcock uses his natural abilities as a suspense expert to build each scene slowly. Nothing ever happens quickly in this film. Even the scenes that are set in the quiet living room with all Dial M For Murderthe characters talking about some unimportant subject like “cutting out clippings for a scrapbook”, Hitchcock fills their small apartment with enough suspense to consume a city. And then you can’t forget about the scenes that are supposed to have you on the edge of your seat. When Margot answers the phone and is waiting for someone to speak on the other end, Hitchcock has the camera slowly pan around to reveal Swan standing just inches away from her back. He has the scarf in his hands, ready for the moment she puts the phone down, but just for an extra bit of fun, Hitchcock has Grace start to put the phone down and then pull it back up to her ear one last time. It is in this terrifying moment that Swan gets as close as he possibly can without alerting her to his presence. It is one of the most suspenseful moments ever captured on film, and isDial M For Murder truly a miraculous piece of filmmaking.

It is a perfect suspense movie, filled with flawless performances and marvelous direction. Just because Alfred Hitchcock made ten films that are better than Dial M For Murder, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a wonderful movie; it’s just a credit to Hitchcock’s standing as one of the all time most prolific directors.

Rear Window (1954): Paramount Centennial Blogathon

This is my contribution to the “Paramount Centennial Blogathon” hosted by The Hollywood Revue. Be sure to check out all the posts about the great movies and history that surround 100 years of Paramount.

After 100 years and thousands of movies, Paramount has left uncountable memories on everyone. They have continued to make high quality films year in and year out. Of all the movies filmed on the Paramount lot, my all time favorite is the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, Rear Window.

Rear Window is the story of photojournalist, L.B. Jefferies (Stewart). Five weeks ago he broke his leg and is confined to a wheelchair, in his apartment, for one more week. It is a small apartment that typically doesn’t get much use, but it does have large windows around the back (or should I say rear) that overlook the courtyard bellow, as well as into his neighbors’ homes. L.B., or Jeff as he is called, spends his days watching the mostly Rear Window Blogathonmundane events of the people he lives around.

Every day Jeff’s nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), comes in and rubs him down, takes his temperature, and insults his voyeuristic tendencies.  She doesn’t put up with his garbage and scolds him when she catches him eyeing the ballet dancer too much. She is in favor of Jeff settling down and getting married to his uptown girl, Lisa (Grace Kelly).

Lisa comes over every evening to check up on Jeff, and then she spends her time trying to convince him that she could give up her ways and spend the rest of her life with him, traveling the world, finding interesting and adventurous thing for him to photograph. She also spends just as much time trying toRear Window Blogathon look as beautiful as possible, to keep Jeff from breaking up with her.

As the movie opens, Jeff seems to be just an innocent snooping neighbor. He doesn’t interfere with anyone; in fact nobody knows that they are even being watched. He watches the apartments like a rotating soap opera that never ends. At the end of our first evening Jeff hears a loud, quick scream. For the rest of the night Jeff sees one of the neighbors leaving his apartment with his large suitcase and then returning again, multiple times. He begins to get suspicious, and the next morning the man’s invalid wife doesn’t appear to be in the apartment at all. Jeff tries to show Stella and Rear Window BlogathonLisa, but neither of them believe his crazy notions of foul play.

Slowly more details unfold, and Jeff is able to convince Lisa that a murder has taken place. He calls in a detective friend that he has, but once again it becomes hard to make him see things their way.

Eventually, Jeff gets Stella on his side as well, and the three of them camp out overnight in order to solve the case. It’s at this point that Jeff is no longer in control, and Lisa has taken over to follow through on what Jeff has started.

Filmed entirely on the Paramount backlot (mostly on stage 18), Rear Window was destined for greatness. In 1949, Cecil B. DeMille filmed Samson And Delilah on this stage, and then Billy Wilder used it in Sunset Boulevard (1950) for the scenes in which DeMille is filming, and again in 1953, this stage was used again for the Best Picture nominated film Shane. Then in October of 1953, construction began on stage 18 to create the brilliant set for Rear Window. It took just over a month to Rear Window Blogathoncreate this immense set that at the time was the largest set ever constructed on the Paramount lot. The building of the set included the excavation of the soundstage floor to include the basement in what would later become the courtyard in the final film.

The apartment building included 31 apartments, eight of which were fully furnished. These apartments included electricity and running water, and could be lived in full time. Because Hitchcock wanted Rear Window to be filmed from Jefferies point of view, he remained in the apartment with Jimmy Stewart and talked to the actors across the courtyard through earpieces. Between takes, Mrs. Torso (Georgine Darcy) would relax and enjoy herself as if she were at her own home. In order to simulate sunlight, Hitchcock used over 1,000 arc lights, which burned so hot that at one point Rear Window Blogathonthe heat caused the fire sprinklers to be set off.

Famed costume designer Edith Head had worked with Hitchcock previously in 1946 on Notorious, but now that he had begun his career at Paramount he developed a wonderful working relationship with her that would last for the rest of his career. Edith Head began her career at Paramount in 1924, and she quickly worked her way up the ladder until she became the greatest costume designer in Hollywood.  In her career she was nominated for an Academy Award 35 times and won six awards for Paramount movies between 1949 and 1955.

Alfred Hitchcock moved to Paramount in 1953, and chose Rear Window for his first project. He would go on to make fourRear Window Blogathon more films at Paramount, including his classics, To Catch A Thief (1955) and Vertigo (1958). Rear Window also acquired a Best Director Academy Award nomination for Hitchcock.

Although Hitchcock made several wonderful films in his career, I always think of Rear Window as his greatest achievement. Toward the beginning of the film the audience looks down on Jefferies for his voyeuristic tendencies. Much in the same way Stella judges Jefferies, we judge him as well. But as the movie progresses both Stella and the audience begin to see things the way Jefferies sees them. We all forget about “rear window ethics” and begin to look for mysteries and murders around every corner. It is a great accomplishment in this master director’s career, and a welcomed addition to Paramount’s brilliant movie collection.

This has been part of the Paramount Centennial Blogathon with portions of a previous Rear Window post.

High Noon (1952): AFI 100 Days 100 Movies #27

★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

#27 High Noon (1952)

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Running Time-85 Minutes

Rated-Not Rated

“I’m not trying to be a hero. If you think I like this, you’re crazy.”

High NoonHigh Noon tells the story of Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in the small town of Hadleyville. As the movie begins he is getting married to a much younger Quaker girl, Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly). As soon as their small wedding ceremony ends, Kane turns in his badge and gun, as he plans to move to a new town in order to run a store.

Unbeknownst to Kane and his new bride, one of the men that Kane had arrested years ago, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), has been released and will be arriving in town on the noon train. Three of Frank Miller’s gang, including his brother, have already arrived and are waiting at the depot.

Initially when Kane finds out what is happening he takes his friends advice and heads out of town, to avoid any trouble. Kane doesn’t make it far before he realizes that it would do no good to High Noonrun away from this problem. Frank Miller has vowed revenge and he would follow Kane anywhere in order to kill him. Kane tells Amy that it would be better to face it here among friends, so he turns around and heads back to town.

When they get back to his office Amy tells Will that she doesn’t understand why he is so determined, and once again asks him to leave with her. When he refuses, she informs him that she will be leaving on the noon train without him.

Amy is just the first person to abandon Will in his hour of need. Judge Percy Mettrick (Otto Kruger) packs his bags and leaves, explaining to Will that the town is going to abandon him. Then his Deputy (Lloyd Bridges) and his ex-girlfriend Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) inform him that he is on his own. He goes to the bar, but they are actually rooting for Frank Miller. His friend Sam Fuller (Harry Morgan) hides from him, and when High NoonKane interrupts the church service looking for deputes the entire congregation decides that it would be best to stay out of the fighting. Finally Kane realizes that he is going to be alone and he sets out to meet Frank and his gang.

“People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don’t care. They just don’t care.”

I may as well come right out and say that I think High Noon is one of the greatest movies ever made. Although many great western movie lovers criticized High Noon at the time of it’s release as being “un-American”, I think that it is one of the most realistic westerns ever made. It might not make the west look glamorous to have a marshal going all over town trying to find help, High Noonbut that doesn’t make it unrealistic. John Wayne and Howard Hawks got together and made Rio Bravo as an “answer” to High Noon. Apparently they preferred the idea of a marshal that is willing to go it alone, without asking for any outside help. I read that Wayne said High Noon was an allegory for blacklisting, and he considered it the most un-American movie ever. This will be one of the times John Wayne and I don’t see eye to eye.

As director, Fred Zinnemann made a brilliant picture full of underlying themes and stories that all lead to the final climactic scene. It’s as if Zinnemann used a “talented actor magnet” to pull together some great actors, even for small roles. Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Lon Chaney Jr., Ian MacDonald and Lee Van Cleef fill out an outstanding cast that makes every scene a dynamic one.

High Noon Of course the performance that will always be remembered most is that of Gary Cooper as Will Kane. He won his second Best Actor Academy Award for this performance and solidified his place in movie history. No matter how many times I watch High Noon I always end up sympathizing with Kane and the decisions he has to make. The feeling of being alone in the world can’t be described in words, which is why Cooper had to do it with his superior acting and facial expressions. Well, that and one of the greatest crane shots in movie history.

There are two aspects of High Noon that at the time of its release were held with much regard, but now 60 years later seem overlooked.

To start there is the editing that was done by Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad. Perhaps it is the fact the High Noon is a western and therefore viewers tend to overlook certain aspects just because of its genre, but the editing in High Noon is High Noonamong the best I have ever seen. To take film from so many different scenes with so many different actors and combine them into a seamless, flawless story is amazing. Certainly the greatest achievement is right before the noon train arrives and we see continuous cuts between all the actors as they count down the final seconds before the train blows its whistle. The suspense builds as the cuts move faster and as the camera gets closer to the faces of everyone involved. They won the editing Academy Award in 1952, but I feel that they even deserve more credit than that. It is absolutely one of the most well edited movies that I have ever seen.

The other underrated area of High Noon is the music. Inevitable now, if you show High Noon to someone for the first time, they will laugh as they opening song (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’) starts playing. (It may seem a bit cheesy now to youngerHigh Noon audiences, but don’t let the song fool you). When High Noon was released, some early test audiences laughed as well, but for a much different reason. This was (if I remember correctly) the first movie to have a recorded song over the opening credits. Not only that, but the musical score for High Noon is just different sections of the same song played at different tempos and with different instruments. At one point a character plays the song on a harmonica, and also in the bar it is being played in the background. To incorporate a song into a movie so well was a revolutionary concept that completely changed music in movies. By the end of the movie the viewer always seems to walk away singing the theme. High Noon won Academy awards for both the musical score (Dimitri Tiomkin) and for Song (Tiomkin and Ned Washington).

High NoonAll around High Noon will long be remembered as a great movie, and certainly will remain on the AFI list for many generations.  The only mystery that remains, is how did High Noon lose out on Best Picture to The Greatest Show On Earth? That may be one that I never solve.

Rear Window (1954): AFI 100 Days 100 Movies #48

★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

#48 Rear Window (1954)

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Running Time-115 Minutes

Rated-Not Rated

Nobody likes the feeling of being watched. Well, at least most of us don’t. So how then do you make a movie about a man that stares at his neighbors through his back window, without alienating the audience? Answer: Alfred Hitchcock. It takes a brilliant director to find ways to make an audience identify with characters that are doing unsavory things, and this is where Hitchcock excels. Well, it doesn’t hurt when you throw in masterful art direction, a genius script, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter.

Rear WindowRear Window is the story of photojournalist, L.B. Jefferies (Stewart). Five weeks ago he broke his leg and is confined to a wheelchair, in his apartment, for one more week. It is a small apartment that typically doesn’t get much use, but it does have large windows around the back (or should I say rear) that overlook the courtyard bellow, as well as into his neighbor’s homes. L.B., or Jeff as he is called, spends his days watching the mostly mundane events of the people he lives around.

Every day Jeff’s nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), comes in and rubs him down, takes his temperature, and insults his voyeuristic tendencies.  She doesn’t put up with his garbage and scolds him when she catches him eyeing the ballet dancer too much. She is in favor of Jeff settling down and getting married to his uptown girl, Lisa (Grace Kelly).

Rear WindowLisa comes over every evening to check up on Jeff, and then she spends her time trying to convince him that she could give up her ways and spend the rest of her life with him, traveling the world, finding interesting and adventurous thing for him to photograph. She also spends just as much time trying to look as beautiful as possible, to keep Jeff from breaking up with her.

As the movie opens, Jeff seems to be just an innocent snooping neighbor. He doesn’t interfere with anyone; in fact nobody knows that they are even being watched. He watches the apartments like a rotating soap opera that never ends. At the end of our first evening Jeff hears a loud, quick scream. For the rest of the night Jeff sees one of the neighbors leaving the apartment with his large suitcase and then returning again, multiple times. He begins to get suspicious, and the next morning the man’s invalid wife doesn’t appear to be in the apartment at all. Jeff tries to show Stella and Lisa, but neither of them believe his crazy notions.

Rear WindowSlowly more details unfold, and Jeff is able to convince Lisa that a murder has taken place. He calls in a detective friend that he has, but once again it becomes hard to get make him see things their way.

Eventually, Jeff gets Stella on his side as well, and the three of them camp out overnight in order to solve the case. It’s at this point that Jeff is no longer in control, and Lisa has taken over to follow through on what Jeff has started.

 

I know this might sound crazy but Rear Window is actually just a simple love story, with a possible murder plot happening in the background. Lisa desperately is in love with Jeff and she is willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to get him to be excited by her. Lisa comes into the movie like a dream. She floats around the apartment just trying to show Jeff how wonderful it would be for them to be together, but Jeff just seems bored. It’s not until Lisa runs around playing detective that Jeff truly becomes infatuated with her.

Rear WindowAs far as the acting goes, I don’t think you could ever do any better than Rear Window. Jimmy Stewart, besides being my favorite actor, is an extremely talented actor, and although he was nominated for five Academy Awards, none of his four Hitchcock movies were ever included.  All of his Hitchcock performances are good, but Rear Window is his personal best. It is hard to convey so many personal thought and emotions while sitting in a wheelchair.

Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter are probably the two best supporting actresses that you could ever find. They both are professionals that knew exactly how to make this movie great. The rest of the supporting cast doesn’t even have the opportunity to speak very much at all. They just get to act as if no one is watching them, even though the entire audience is studying their every move.

Rear WindowAt a few points in Hitchcock’s career he tackled a project that offered some interesting challenges. Lifeboat takes place completely on a boat, and Rope stays in the same apartment for the entire movie. With Rear Window, although we certainly spend a fair amount of time looking out of Jeff’s apartment, are in the apartment almost the entire movie. At the beginning it doesn’t seem to bad, but by the end we feel as closed in as Jeff has been.

My favorite aspect of Rear Window is how we are able to see the way people’s perceptions change throughout the movie. At the beginning the audience, as well as Lisa and Stella, look down on Jeff for what has become his favorite pastime. Slowly throughout the movie, everyone in the apartment begins to join him in his voyeurism. It starts first with Lisa, then Stella, and then finally us. By the end, we hardly remember that the movie started with a man staring at a dancer in the least amount of clothes possible.

Rear WindowRear Window received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, but unfortunately on the AFI list it dropped 6 spots from the first list. I admit that Rear Window is my personal favorite Hitchcock movie, so it is hard for me to be very objective about its greatness, but I don’t see how someone could see this movie and not understand how amazing it is.