Sunday, December 10, 2017
(October 1945, U.S.)
Alfred Hitchcock was considered the master of suspense. He wasn't perfect, though, in my opinion. Even the great "masters" have their flaws. SPELLBOUND is far from flawless. In fact, as I sat down to watch it last night for the first time in years for the purpose of writing this post, I slowly piled up in my brain, everything about the film that was irritating me. To begin with, its intent on addressing the professional practices of psychiatry and psychoanalysis feels considerably overdone and overblown at times. Yes, we get it, Hitch - you were fascinated by the insights into the human mind and what made it "tick", so to say. You overstretch its point, in my opinion. Then there's what I consider a real negative stretch for such a gifted actor as Gregory Peck in which he overdoes the catatonic bit of his amnesiac mental state and his repeated aggressive outbursts and fainting dizzy spells. In fact, if one were to over-analyze SPELLBOUND, it may easily be accused of passing itself off as nothing greater than a full-length documentary on psychoanalysis starring two of the biggest movie stars of the era. In short, this Hitchcock film comes very close to fall on its ass compared to such other great masterpieces that came later by the great master!
So, why, you may ask am I here even discussing it if I'm starting things off with such negative feelings? Well, it's Hitchcock, for starters, and that means always giving everything he did a fair chance. There's also a fine and surprising resolution at the film's end, which manages to save it all, but I'll get into that later. From the moment the opening credits gives its audience some insight into the profession and practices of psychiatry, we're immediately introduced to a Vermont mental hospital called Green Manors where its patients and their "problems" are portrayed with a certain degree of resistance. Remember, this is the 1940s, so the level of violence from mental illness is bound to be restrained on screen. We have a woman who's your basic man hater and a man who appears to be afraid of his own shadow as he's convinced he killed his own father. Dr. Constance Peterson (played by Ingrid Bergman) is a rather emotionless and detached psychoanalyst who, while not believing in the concept of the emotions behind falling in love, manages to fall head-over-heels for Dr. Anthony Edwards (played by Gregory Peck) when he arrives at Green Manors to replace its former director, Dr. Murchison (played by Leo G. Carroll, a frequent Hitchcock performer), who is being forced into retirement after a mild breakdown of his own. Constance is in love now, but her new male fancy may not be what he seems. First, he may not actually be Dr. Edwards, but rather the man who murdered Dr. Edwards and then assumed his identity to hide any guilt complex he may be experiencing following the crime.
(you following all of this, so far?)
Second, the good doctor suffers from a bizarre phobia about parallel lines against white backgrounds (???). Through her own investigation into his handwriting, Constance soon realizes that her new love interest is not who he pretends to be and is in need of help. Of course, in real life, most women would run for their lives from a potentially dangerous man they've only known a few days. But this is Hollywood and it's Ingrid Bergman - you know, the woman who always seems to stand by her man in nearly every film she does - so we know the young doctor in love is going to stand by this man, too, and try to help cure him of his amnesia, his phobias and his unknown demons because she believes him to be innocent of any crimes. Now we get to watch the patient on the couch, the shrink with the glasses and the notepad, and the detailed interpretations of Peck's surrealistic dream, courtesy of none other than artist Salvador Dalí himself...
Is the fake Dr. Edwards psychotic, schizophrenic, amnesiac, homicidal...or just in need of some good 'ol fashioned couch time? We're trying to find out as we watch Constance not only try to get to the heart of her lover's mind, but also evade the police with him, as well. In the end, we learn that the fake Dr. Edward's mental state and guilt complex is ultimately linked to an incident from his childhood when he accidentally killed his brother. But that's not the end of the story, nor the big revelation that saves SPELLBOUND in the end. We still have the body of the real Dr. Edwards that was discovered on a ski mountain to contain a bullet in its back. Somebody shot him, but who? Looks like it was Peck and it looks like he's going to get the chair for it. Ah, but things are (thankfully) never that neat and tidy in a Hitchcock mystery. Remember the director of Green Manors who was forced into retirement due to his own breakdown? Turns out he was on the ski mountain with a gun the day the real Dr. Edwards fell over a treacherous cliff and Gregory Peck "took the fall" for it. Constance is not only a great psychiatrist, but a pretty talented detective, too. So, in the end, Peck is miraculously healed, seemingly without any leftover trace of the psychosis that ailed him, and he now gets to live happily-ever-after and sleep with Ingrid Bergman. That's Hollywood, my friends!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr. Murchison (pointing a gun at Constance): "You're an excellent analyst, Dr. Peterson, but a rather stupid woman."
Friday, December 1, 2017
(June 1994, U.S.)
In a strange way, SPEED is a challenging film to write about. There's nothing thought-provoking or culturally-significant about it, it doesn't feature any major stars and its director was someone we'd never heard of before (at the time). It was simply one of those effortless summer blockbusters that one could kill just over two hours with (in as summer that didn't offer too much more except FORREST GUMP and TRUE LIES). For myself, it was one of those days I'd set aside to do a little multiplex movie hopping (I think I saw THE CROW and BEVERLY HILLS COP III on that same day). Keanu Reeves was still a mystery to me, despite having seen him recently in POINT BREAK (1991) and DRACULA (1992) and I think the name Sandra Bullock meant nothing to me. I suppose my real, if only, incentive to see SPEED was the thought of Dennis Hopper playing a crazed bomber and extortionist. If you'd seen him in David Lynch's BLUE VELVET (1986), then you knew just how evil the man could be on screen.
As LAPD SWAT officer Jack Traven, Keanu Reeves is just about as attractive and hunky as any firefighter calendar page, if that's your thing. He and his partner Harry Temple (played by Jeff Daniels) defeat an attempt by the mad bomber (Hopper) of holding an elevator full of helpless people for a ransom. After an explosion, we supposed to think (even for a short time) that our bad guy is dead and gone. Hardly. A short time later, Jack watches a bus explode on the street. Only minutes after that, he learns that our bomber has planted a similar device aboard another Los Angeles bus and it's set to arm itself once the bus reaches fifty miles per hour. After that, the bomb will explode if the bus' speed drops below fifty miles per hour. The bomber is watching. If anyone tries to get off the bus, he'll detonate it. If he doesn't get his $3.7 million dollar ransom in three hours, he'll detonate it (sounds like those aboard the bus are fucked!). Boarding the bus himself, Jack takes on the immediate role of hero to try and keep things calm. When the bus driver is accidentally shot, passenger Annie (Bullock) takes over the wheel, and quite frankly, does her absolute best at trying to be as "cute" as possible while operating a large vehicle she has absolutely no experience with. Still, what does it matter? Cute, little Annie manages to keep things under control, including a hard right turn that would normally turn a bus over and an accelerated leap across a huge gap in the highway that would've made Evel Knievel stand up and take notice.
Meanwhile, Harry identifies the bomber as Howard Payne, a retired Atlanta bomb squad officer with a local address and a very large chip on his shoulder. When he and the SWAT team ascend on his house, we soon learn (if not predict) that the house is rigged with explosives and the blast kills Harry and most of the SWAT team. Back on the bus, Jack soon realizes that the bus has a planted camera inside and Howard has been watching them the entire time. Through a little bit of media camera magic, a looped tape is created giving the passengers the time they need to escape the bus. The empty bus slows down below 50 mph and explodes. Actually, to be completely and enthusiastically fair, the explosion is one of the best and most cataclysmic I've ever seen on film. We've known (or at least suspected) that the bus would finally explode in the end, and it's no disappointment. Earlier, we hear Jack tell Harry that there's enough C-4 explosives aboard to "put a hole in the world". He was right, and we can't help but love it!
As we may expect in any high octane action movie, the excitement doesn't end until our bad guy is caught or dead. This happens on board a speeding, runaway subway car with Jack and Annie trapped inside. But don't worry - they'll survive and they'll decide that they love each other (or at least want to have sex with each other!) by the time it's all over. You see - even when lives and property are at stake, Hollywood knows just how to happily end things on the streets of Hollywood Boulevard in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre showing a revival of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (wish I'd seen it on that screen!).
Action films are very often a genre, and nothing more. If they're done right, with some degree of wit, intelligence and credible performances, they can become something more. While I'm not saying that SPEED perfectly achieves this in every way or comes close to action material that surpassed a decade or so later, like THE DARK KNIGHT, it certainly outdoes itself above much of the Stallone and Scwarzenegger crap we had to contend with in the 1980s. Reeves and Bullock have a good chemistry that managed to make them famous and Hopper, while being no Frank Booth, doesn't disappoint as the crazed, diabolical and even colorful madman. It all comes together to offer the dazzling and exhilarating escapism that SPEED is meant to be, and not much more. Or perhaps, if we take the time to think about it in a post 9/11 world, we may think twice before boarding that bus again...maybe (I just hope Sandra Bullock isn't driving it!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Howard Payne: "See, I'm in charge here! I drop this stick, and they pick your friend here up with a sponge! Are you ready to die, friend?"
Harry Temple: "Fuck you!"
Howard: "Oh, in two hundred years we've gone from, "I regret but I have one life to give for my country" to "Fuck you!"
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Once again, I've chosen to interrupt the traditional format of my blog in order to request some of your personal time to share with you, my first book that is COMING SOON!
Its complete title is IT'S STRICTLY PERSONAL - A Nostalgic Movie Memoir of 1975-1982 Or: Why Sharks, Boxers, Galaxies, Aliens and British Spies Mattered to Gen X'ers Like Me!
This is the most personal story you'll ever read about the movies that not only impacted my childhood growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but also helped to shape the man I've become. It's a tale of not only how I felt about the movies THEN, but how I interpret them NOW.
These are the movies I discuss in my book with great memory and affection:
This book is for those of my generation, the Generation X era, who still remember, and will never forget a time when movies and blockbusters were changing, growing and evolving into deep-rooted memories for every child, teen and adult who sat in front of the big screen and waited for the magic to begin.
So, I invite you all to keep your eyes and ears open as I continue to keep you updated on the book's progress and development. It's COMING SOON, and you're going to love it!
Eric Friedmann, Writer