Have You Seen…? Episode 7
We have the second Have You Seen…? episode focusing on the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Today David Hast and WGVU’s Scott Vander Werf talk about the 1943 classic “Shadow Of A Doubt” and Hitchcock’s final great movie “Frenzy” from 1972.
[Clip from ‘Shadow of a Doubt’]
David Hast: Not many people, unless they're pretty big film viewers, will say, oh, yes, Shadow of a Doubt that doesn't pop to mind. But that was Hitchcock's own personal favorite of his movies. And it stars two actors who are not well remembered now, but were wonderful actors. Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten. Joseph Cotten is in Citizen Kane. The reason why he liked it was that he'd only been in America little time and the first couple of movies he made in America like Rebecca and Suspicion, they were still like set in London, kind of glamorous, all shot in studios. This movie they shot actually in Santa Rosa, California, on location. It was much smaller town then and with no big stars in it. So they didn't have to worry about that aspect of the film. They can do what they wanted with it. Hitchcock loved it because it was the idea of introducing evil into what seemed like the perfect small American town. It takes place in Santa Rosa, California, but it could be anywhere. I think people who've followed in his footsteps, like you think about like David Lynch in a movie like Blue Velvet, it's kind of the same…much more…that movie is much more graphic and sorted.
Scott Vander Werf: Or you could see what that Shadow of a Doubt could be the inspiration for Blue Velvet.
DH: It could be, you know, like Hitchcock, liked this idea that there was good and evil and evil and good even in this perfect town.
SVW: Now, this is another one where I haven't seen this film and in over 30 years. But I have a distinct memory of really liking the Theresa Wright character.
DH: Well, she's a wonderful actress. She did 2 or 3 films in a row at that time. One of the most famous is The Best Years of Our Lives. She always played a kind of character who seemed innocent, sincere but at the same time was very smart and has her eyes open. Yes, she's a wonderful actress. Shadow of a Doubt is another one of those films of Hitchcock's where you know who that person is. You know right from the start, this Joseph Cotten character is the Merry Widow Murderer. He's a guy who marries rich, older women, and then murders them and takes their money. His name is Charlie and he's the uncle Charlie of this wonderful family that lives in Santa Rosa and the Theresa Wright character, the teenage girl who loves her uncle Charlie is also named Charlie, which is interesting because they even talk about like they’re twins, you know. But the thing about it is that she's very good and innocent, and he is the epitome of evil. And he comes to the comes to this town and “Shadow of a Doubt” refers to her doubts that build and build about Charlie until she realizes he really is a murderer. So it's very compelling.
SVW: And as I recall, the suspense sort of builds throughout the final 3rd of the movie.
DH: Yeah, and I don’t want to give stuff away, but it does become, you know…Hitchcock, he doesn't just do suspense, he does action really well too right? Incredibly well. And we love Hitchcock for all the crazy action sequences that end some of his movies. People hanging off of Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty as climactic scenes. I loved those as a kid. And again, that's why Hitchcock is so wonderful because… this is a weird comparison, and maybe a flawed analogy; but in some ways he’s like the Beatles of filmmakers. Because when I think about my parents, I'm old enough, my parents were born before rock and really grew up before rock and roll even existed. So if you ask my parents in the 1960's to name like a rock and roll band, they could probably name one. They could name The Beatles. The Beatles were so…everybody knew about the Beatles, right? And the Beatles were like incredibly popular and everybody liked them. But at the same time, they were highly innovative and artistic. And that's what Hitchcock is like. He was hugely popular. Everyone knew his name. If anyone knew a director’s name in the Golden Age of Hollywood, in the public, they knew Hitchcock. But the same time, I mean, to this day, still studied in film school, he does amazingly innovative stuff.
SVW: And you look at Psycho from 1960, it created a whole sub-genre of horror movies that is still going on to this day. He followed Psycho with The Birds. And then after that, he had…Marnie followed that and that was somewhat successful. But then he did have a period of time where his films really weren't that successful and he seemed a little bit passe. But he came back in 1972 with his second to last movie Frenzy. The first time I saw Frenzy was at the [name of theater] theater in Eastown (Grand Rapids) when I was in high school and it was a double feature with Psycho. And Frenzy was also his return to England where he filmed, actually reading up on it, most of the neighborhoods where it was filmed were the places that he grew up. So that's a little bit of autobiographical. And we were talking about the wrong man scenario, this is one of the wrong man films because the actor Jon Finch plays Dick Blaney who's accused of murders that he hasn't committed. But he's friends with the guy who is the murderer and we know who the murderer is. And then there's Alec McCown who plays the police inspector, who's trying to figure things out. And it really fits, it fits in with Psycho but it's also, you can see, it's Hitchcock's first time using… it's an R rated movie… there's nudity and the violence is a little bit more graphic.
DH: It’s his only R rated film. And he I guess once they knew they were going to do that, he took advantage of it. He doesn't go over the top with it. But he does do a few things that are more graphically violent than he's ever been able to do in a previous film. By today's standards frenzy is compared to horror films, now it's tame, right. But you name Psycho and the birds. And would it be fair to say that, in a way, a modern horror was invented by Hitchcock? Is he really the first innovator of what became I mean, not… there were many psychological horror films, but in terms of.
SVW: Yeah, I mean, you think about horror films before psycho and they primarily were like, you know, monsters. They weren't the human monsters. They were the monsters of, you know, Frankenstein and Dracula and the Mummy. And then but psycho makes it the psychological taking that psychological horror even further. And yeah, I mean, it's funny, though, you….that we give them credit for that. A lot of film critics would say that it also spawned a lot of really bad slasher movies.
DH: Oh there's no question. But you can't blame the person who did it. I mean, you can look at all kinds of innovation and the arts and someone does something better than anybody else. And then they have a million inferior imitators.
SVW: So you saw frenzy for the first time a in the past few days. What was your impression?
DH: I thought it was good. I mean, it was a I would look at some of the extras on the DVD and his daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, who often does show up commenting on his film, said it was a return to form for him, that he'd been kind of forced to make a couple of bad studio films in the in The Late 60's. And this was like a good old fashioned Hitchcock film again. But it's also funny as part of that. They're funny, too.
SVW: And he makes you the chief inspector and is married to a woman who is experimenting with cooking different cuisines. But that's a way to sort of make fun of the British diet as well. I mean, it's not either not really making fun of the international cuisine so much as the home cuisine.
DH: What’s funny about that character she's making is unbelievably awful food. She thinks she's making like gourmet French stuff all these dishes have these French names in French sauces supposedly but really all they are is taking we think of British food is bad and making it worse and that the husband can't even eat it, the detective. But what's interesting about her, she seems like this, you know, an unimportant character, but she keeps telling him stuff about the case and he's on the right track.
SVW: So that's frenzy from 1972 and shadow of a doubt from 1943, by director Alfred Hitchcock.