Going into Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, one might expect a potboiler on the level of his 19th-century period-piece turdpile Under Capricorn. The Master of Suspense and screwball comedy? Can there be any greater incongruity between a filmmaker and his subject? Yet this film calls into question that truism we were all taught in elementary-school science class about oil and water not mixing. Sure, it’s hardly It Happened One Night or Bringing Up Baby, but I’m puzzled about some of the censure levied against this surprisingly intelligent, smartly penned, and convincingly acted screwball comedy—especially given the ongoing accolades bestowed on the pretentious, hammily acted, feminist schlockfests Adam’s Rib and His Girl Friday.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound commits the cardinal artistic sin of trying so hard to tell us something important that it tells us nothing insightful or interesting. It puzzles me why a director who generally understood better than any other the power of the camera to show rather than tell would want to pontificate about the use of psychoanalysis to investigate repressed memories as if he were delivering a thesis at a symposium of mental-health professionals. The film constitutes little more than dime-store Freudian pedantry.
It’s alive! An elegant declaration of mad-scientific achievement, that. Dr. Frankenstein’s (Colin Clive) terse interjection means more to horror-movie lore than all the chainsaw gorefests and Michael Myers clones that the slick John Carpenters in the “sequel industry” ever reinvented. Still, the original Frankenstein is a bit stiff and blockheaded at times and should probably best be known as the prequel to the magnificent Bride of Frankenstein, which is doubtless among the greatest horror movies ever made.
For all its technical wizardry (including meticulously crafted iris shots), eerie chiaroscuro effects (the shadow in the stairwell is indelibly etched in my memory), and virtuosic performances (particularly Max Schreck in the lead role of Count Orlok), Nosferatu fails to heat my blood or stimulate my mind to the extent that some other iconic, but probably less well-known, movies in the silent horror genre have, like the more subtle and cerebral The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (one of my favorite all-time films) or the metaphysical Swedish film The Phantom Carriage. Is Nosferatu a very good and wonderfully atmospheric film? Yes, I think that too is beyond doubt. It’s just that technique aside, it doesn’t seem to have all that much substance to it—you know, the sort of stuff that keeps you up at night pondering multiple levels of meaning. I’m not quite seeing the greatness of it.
Broken Blossoms, directed by one of cinema’s technical pioneers D.W. Griffith, illustrates why the creation of art shouldn’t concern one race apologizing to another for the mistakes of history—namely because the result can’t help but be politically correct pablum. Sure, maybe Griffith had gone too far in Birth of a Nation, depicting the KKK as white-steed-riding warriors who saved the nation from the “evils” of miscegenation. But hey, it’s a viewpoint—albeit a distorted one—and, at the risk of stating the obvious, he has a right to express it under our Constitution without being coerced by resentnicks into issuing an apology in filmic form.
Although perhaps not as well-remembered as Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, or Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious is one of his most brilliant films, presaging the director’s immediately recognizable visual style that would flourish in the 1950s. Interestingly, it is also one of the earlier films in which Hitch employs a romance as bait to lure audiences in with his characteristic irony.