The title of David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence is fitting, for its hackneyed premise—that there may be a latent lust for violence in even the most innocuous-appearing person—calls to mind the narrator’s dronings from the America’s Serial Killers documentary I watched a while back. Like so many films that are calculated to shock, its presentation is surprisingly safe. Skinning the film’s chest of its blood-caked epithelial layer reveals the heart of a story beating as regularly as the ticking of a time bomb of which the viewer is the only real victim.
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.
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.
Like his earlier masterpiece Rope (1948), Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder is based on a play (by the English playwright Frederick Knott), and it’s not difficult to see that it was originally intended as a theatre piece. Not only is the bulk of the film set within the confines of an apartment—as also in Rope—but the cast is small and the action is built around a single dramatic climax. However, Dial M differs from Rope in the position of this climax, and therein lies the former’s greatest weakness.
I’m not an angel. That’s too bad. Because there’s something I really need to take up with God so that He can publish a biblical addendum, something that occurred to me while watching Seven. It’s simply not enough; an eighth deadly sin is needed: “smugness.” That’s the sin made by so many filmmakers. That’s the sin David Fincher committed in assuming that this slogging detective drama constitutes entertainment.
Foreign Correspondent is notable for being only the second film Alfred Hitchcock made in Hollywood; it’s also one of the Master’s tauter, more cerebral thrillers. Though a relatively unheralded work, its multilayered tale of international espionage makes it a worthy forerunner to the cineaste-revered classics of the 50s such as The Man Who Knew Too Much and North by Northwest.