Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blast from the Past: My 1990 VIDEO REVIEW Interview with Pat Hitchcock O’Connell

In my first major job after graduating from dear old Fordham University, I had the good luck to get a long-term temping gig at the New York office of MGM/UA Home Video. Although the company eventually moved to California, it was a valuable and enjoyable experience in many ways, chief among them working as an assistant to writer David Hajdu (pronounced “HAY-dew”). Our working relationship branched out into a 25-year friendship which, happily, continues today, not to put the whammy on it!  Over the course of those years, my husband Vinnie and I have periodically worked for David as freelance researchers, starting with his coverage of show business and music in such magazines as Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter. We’ve also assisted with research for David’s acclaimed nonfiction bestsellers Positively 4th Street (2001) and The Ten-Cent Plague (2008), both published by Farrar Straus Giroux. 

David conducted brief but memorable celebrity telephone interviews in the 1980s and early 1990s at Video Review Magazine. The stars were asked to provide their “Picks” for their favorite films in whatever genre was being discussed in that issue. With David’s tight schedule, and with me being his trusty freelance assistant, it sometimes fell to me to contact famous folks and politely ask for a few minutes of their time to tell me what their favorite films were. Calling any stranger can be a gamble, but celebrities can be particularly—and understandably—irked about having their privacy invaded. I was lucky, though; most of the famous people I reached were pleasant and gave me enjoyable quotes. Some were surprising; for instance, I expected a horror film or two from Vincent Price, and his inclusion of Laura didn’t surprise me since he was one of its stars, but I was tickled when Price admitted he had a soft spot for The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo! (And why not? Price kicked supernatural tush as Vincent Van Ghoul! He knew how to have fun with a role. But I digress….)  

The only cold-caller I recall turning me down was author Harlan Ellison—but despite his reputation for being cantankerous, he demurred pleasantly and almost apologetically. He’d had a bad experience with the folks at Video Review in the past, and as such, had no desire to participate in an article for them.  He was perfectly polite about it: “I have nothing against you, dear, only your bosses. I’m sure you’re a very nice person, but from me, you can tell them to go burn.”

I’ll admit that of all the luminaries I talked with, I was most excited about the opportunity to talk with one of our family’s favorite character actresses, and certainly one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favorites: Patricia Hitchcock, born in England and raised primarily in Los Angeles. Actually, Hitchcock’s only child, now 82, has been known as Pat Hitchcock O’Connell since her marriage to Joe O’Connell in 1952. As I’ve mentioned in previous TotED blog posts, Pat’s performance in Strangers on a Train as teenage Barbara Morton, the sister-in-law-to-be of beleaguered hero Guy Haines (Farley Granger) endeared me to her immediately, with her sweet face and her saucy way with a tart observation. Take her response when papa Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll) scolds her about how even Guy’s late wife, a blackmailing slut, “has a right to life and the pursuit of happiness.” Barbara’s pat rebuttal:  “From what I hear, she pursued it in all directions.” Before SoaT, Pat studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, where she made her film debut in her father’s 1950 thriller Stage Fright as Jane Wyman’s pal Chubby Bannister (“…a girl you can lean on,” quipped Hitchcock). Not content to simply steal the show in SoaT, Pat also stole her scenes in Psycho (1960) as Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) co-worker Caroline, who cheerfully offers tranquilizers to the stressed-out Marion. Pat guest-starred on many episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Playhouse 90 in addition to stage work.
Although Pat has retired from acting, she’s busy nevertheless. She is:
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to share memories and observations with this marvelous woman! Without further ado, here is:

Video Review: Patricia Hitchcock’s Picks (Including a Surprising Choice)

The warmest and sanest of the creations of master director Alfred Hitchcock is certainly his daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell. Known to Hitch buffs for her colorful supporting performances in her father’s Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train, and Psycho, the now-retired actress remains an avid video viewer of her favorite genre, mystery and suspense. These are her five favorites (in chronological order):

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
“Naturally, I love my father’s movies best, and this was my father’s own favorite. I think he loved it because he was so involved on the set, which was very unusual for him. I was there, coaching the little girl (Edna May Wonacott), who was actually the daughter of a local grocer. My father loved her natural quality, although I had to teach her how to act.”

Notorious (1946)
“In this one, my father was really able to do all the things he enjoyed doing artistically and technically. He also used brilliant actors down to the smallest parts, like the Germans—especially Leopoldine Konstantin [who played villain Claude Rains’ domineering mother]. The only problem was that because of the politically sensitive plot about making a bomb out of uranium, my family was followed by the FBI for months.”

Strangers on a Train (1951)
“The homosexual theme of this movie was way ahead of its time and very interesting. As a matter of fact, few people really caught it when the movie was released.”

Psycho (1960)
“With this movie on video, I don’t know why they keep making sequels. They all miss the point of the original—they’re all shot in color and put more importance on blood than on the story and the suspense.”

E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982)
“This may sound funny, but I think the suspense in E.T. is great. I think Steven Spielberg is the modern director who’s closest to my father, because he has a gift for creating suspense, and he makes movies for the audience.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Midnight Movies at the TV Oasis: A Bleary-Eyed Memoir

"*Whew,* it's you! We thought it was Mom catching us watching The Late Show on a school night!"
(Ruth Roman, Farley Granger, and Pat Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train)

Remember the days before DVRs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and Video on Demand back when Blockbuster Video still ruled the earth and you had to consult your good old-fashioned bound paper TV Guide to see what was on the tube? Cast your mind back to a time when The Late Late Show meant movies, not Craig Ferguson interviewing celebrities (no offense, Craig, if you’re reading this). You discovered that one of your favorite movies, which you hadn’t seen in years, happened to be airing on a weekday—maybe even a school night, if you were a kid—at 3 a.m., and the only way you could see it would be to actually stay up late and watch it, unless you were one of the then-few people on your block to own one of those early VCRs with those clunky cassettes. Sure, you’d be dragging your ass all the next day, but as a die-hard movie buff, you knew it was worth it, especially when the film in question wasn’t available on any form of home video. I was mulling this over recently as I was popping through my TiVo menus to make sure I didn’t miss any classic films, TV series, or talk show appearances of my favorite actors—a concept which, during my late-night-movie-watching peak (junior high/middle school through college), would have seemed like something out of one of Jules Verne’s fantastic yet prescient tales.

Growing up in the Bronx, I watched late-night movies in my elementary school days, but only on weekends, and even then only when my very favorite films were on TV.  In those days, the only movies I enjoyed that aired so late at night (or so early in the morning, depending on your viewpoint) were The Beatles’ first (and best) two films, Help! (1965) and A Hard Day’s Night (1964). I mention them in backwards chronological order because that was how our ABC affiliate usually showed them. Maybe WABC-TV figured that Help! would draw better ratings, being the wackier and more colorful of the two films (literally! My fellow late-1960s baby boomers will recall that A Hard Day’s Night was filmed in glorious black-and-white), making it more likely that insomniac Beatles fans would stay up through the …Night for the entire double-feature. I’d always watch them with my Grandma Josie and my older sister Cara when our parents were having a date night. (Cara and I couldn’t be more different, but our love of The Beatles was one of the few things we had in common. We knew “Beatles” was the name of a band long before we knew “beetle” was the name of an insect. But I digress….) Grandma Josie would sleep over and sneak in bags of cookies and candy (the fruit-flavored marshmallows were my favorite) for us to munch while we watched the movies on TV, late-night commercials and all. Mom and Dad usually came home by the time …Night started, and they’d insist that it was long past my bedtime, even for a weekend night. This is why I never saw the whole movie from start to finish until I was in my teens. It was worth the wait, though; once I saw A Hard Day’s Night uninterrupted, it quickly became one of my all-time favorites!

When I was about 12, I got both my own bedroom and my own TV therein—just in time for me to go gaga over the classic films of The Marx Brothers, Alfred Hitchcock, Humphrey Bogart, and the wonderfully wicked world of film noir. Oh joy of joys! I didn’t have to fight to stay awake into the wee hours, either. Now that I didn’t have to worry about waking Cara, all I had to do was set my alarm clock for the movie’s starting time. I never slept through the alarm, but there were a few nights when I’d sleepily turn off the alarm, stop to rest my eyes before getting out of bed to turn on the TV (we didn’t have remotes), and of course, the next time I opened my eyes, Mom would be knocking on my bedroom door telling me to get dressed for school. How mortifying!

Usually, though, I’d bound out of bed with the late-night alarm, tune my TV’s volume so it was just loud enough to be heard inside my room but nowhere else (all the bedrooms were upstairs), and enjoy! Since I was the youngest, most “goody-two-shoes” member of my family, watching all these films alone in the middle of the night added an extra little outlaw thrill to my movie-watching experience, especially for mystery/suspense films like the classic 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon and my instant fave, Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (SoaT), which I watched with my older brother, feeling quite grown-up. It was the first Hitchcock film I’d ever seen, one of the Saturday night wee-hours films shown on our local CBS affiliate. SoaT was also the film that introduced me to Patricia Hitchcock and Robert Walker, both of whom deserved Oscar nominations, in my opinion. I was surprised to find the role of the psychotic Bruno Antony was a change-of-pace role for clean-cut, baby-faced Walker. Having first seen him as evil Bruno, I’m wowed at Walker’s range, but when I see him in one of his usual nice-boy-next-door roles, I can’t help thinking, “No! Run! Don’t trust that guy!” J (For more about Walker and SoaT, feel free to read my recent blog post about it:

That marathon late-night advertising could be murder! Even the worst insomniacs would be hard-pressed to keep from nodding off during the duller Mom-and-Pop business commercials, or those WPIX editorials; it was only in later years that I learned to appreciate the phlegmatic, avucular Richard N. Hughes and his catchphrase, “What’s your opinion? We’d like to know.” Sure, the station cranked up the volume on the commercials, but the initial shock just pumped enough adrenaline through me to blast me out of bed and twist the volume control so as not to wake my unsuspecting family. The commercial for Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria was the exception. It showed the back of a woman’s head as she brushed her hair while a creepy female voiceover chanted an ominous variation on “Roses are red, violets are blue....” The woman turned around, revealing a grotesque skeleton face. The voiceover screeched, and so did I! Hell of an image when you’re watching the 1937 Marx Brothers comedy A Day at the Races, like I was!

The stations usually made up for their late-movie shows’ dull and plentiful commercials with memorable openings. What New York City horror buff can forget the opening of WOR’s Chiller Theater, with that clay-animated six-fingered hand reaching up out of a river of blood? My favorite was the WPIX film show’s opening theme, a jazzy 1950s-style animated montage of movie stars’ images popping in and out to this crazy percussion-and-guitar soundtrack. WABC recycled the opening they already used for their ever-popular 4:30 Movie (mentioned in my October 1st review of The Chairman:, with the animated silhouette of a movie cameraman gliding in and out to a ballsy brass theme (sing it with me, native New Yorkers: ba-BUM, ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-DA-da-DA-da-da-da-dum.... J). I also liked WCBS’s Late Show opening: a perky, tinny silent-movie-style piano theme with Spectraboard-style animated classic movie  bits, including lovers clinching, swashbuckling scenes, and Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp.

Sometimes if my mom had trouble sleeping during the wee hours, she’d catch me in thrall to my late-night movie habit despite my best efforts to conceal it. Even if Mom didn’t hear a sound, she still saw the soft telltale light of the TV peeping under my door. Naturally, she’d come in, startling me almost as much as that damn Suspiria TV spot.  She’d grill me in her nice but firm way about why I was up at this hour when I had school the next day. Mom rarely yelled (but when she did, you shaped up but quick! J) ; mostly she’d look sad and give me a well-meant guilt trip about how I’d be so tired tomorrow and not be able to concentrate in school, and college tuition doesn’t grow on trees....  Now that I’m a mom myself, I understand where she was coming from. At the time, however, I just nodded, apologized, and went to bed. Mom retired for the night feeling like a good mom (which she was, bless her), while I climbed back into bed secretly annoyed because I’d been made, and I’d missed twenty or more minutes of the film during Mom’s lecture. That was my problem as a kid: I was much too well-behaved! J

I don’t think I’ve watched a late show on TV since my college days. As a working wife and mom, I don’t have as much free time for watching movies in the middle of the night—but my husband Vinnie and I have a TiVo in our bedroom with tons of time-shifted entertainment, and we own plenty of DVDs—including Help!, A Hard Day’s Night, and Strangers on a Train, complete with cool extras. So you see, the more things change, the more they remain the same; only the technology and packaging changes.

Got any late-night movie stories to share? Let us know!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

FLICO SUAVE: An Analysis of Suaveness in Modern Society and Film History, by Team Bartilucci

You read that right: my husband Vinnie Bartilucci and I collaborated on this week’s blog post. Together we are...Team Bartilucci! Hope you enjoy our playful labor of love!

It all began on a car trip home from visiting the Long Island branch of our clan. Ever chatty, we lapsed into a conversation on who in films was truly suave, and who was just cool.  It occurred to us that there were a million gradations between the two types, and an equal number of rules and tests to measure people against in order to determine their suaveability.  We hope to analyze these in this exhaustive treatise.
Let’s start with the obvious and unimaginative beginning of the article that we all learned in college: list the definition:

suave (swäv) adj. suaver, suavest.
Smoothly agreeable and courteous. —suavely
adv. —suaveness or suavity (swäv_-i-ty) n.
Adjective:  Effortlessly gracious and tactful in
social manner.  Smooth, bland, urbane.
—From The American Heritage Dictionary
 About as helpful as a street map of London, isn’t it? Okay, let’s get more specific. 

NUMERO ONE-O) If there’s one characteristic that is crucial to the definition of suave, it is BOREDOM.  The truly Suave Person yawns his/her way through life (or the film or show they’re in) and nothing that happens to them rates more than an arched eyebrow.  The Suave Person’s relaxed demeanor says, “Look, I’ve seen it all, done it all; you are not going to impress me with a mere F#@*ing gun.” 

"Me, not suave? How can this be?!
 I demand a recount!"
Using this criterion alone, we can lop a goodly portion of Hollywood off the list.  Believe it or not, Cary Grant falls off early—whoa, hear us out before you break out the flaming torches and pitchforks! The thing is, although Cary Grant appears to be suave (he’s smooth and debonair and all that), he is rarely bored.  A touch of frenzy almost invariably pokes its head from beneath the surface of Cary’s urbane, polished demeanor, as if he realizes he’s finally in a spot that his sophistication can’t get him out of. The best examples of this are in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and North by Northwest (1959).  Cary can best be described as a man desperately trying to be suave in violently un-suave situations. He always gives the impression that he’s mentally straightening his tie, something a truly Suave Person would never have to do. Ah, but it’s that fight against the un-suave tide that charms us into liking Cary and rooting for him!

NUMERO TWO-O) The Suave Person is CONFIDENT.  No tedious soul-searching or hesitation for the suave; whatever they do in a situation is the right thing to do, and if you don’t think so, it’s simply because your feeble, un-suave brain is incapable of understanding the situation.  Confidence comes easy to many action stars, but it’s important to keep Criterion One (as opposed to Cineplex Odeon Three) in mind as well. Bruce Willis has always been confident, but never bored, or even relaxed. (Nobody who was in Hudson Hawk can ever really relax ever again.)

Let’s say you have a person who you believe is suave. You believe he or she meets the criteria for suavaciousness, but you don’t trust your own judgment.  (This is in itself another test; suave people in your proximity often make you doubt your own faculties.)  Try these simple tests….

THE TUXEDO TEST.  Suave People look good in tuxedoes.  No matter where they are.  A suave, tuxedoed person on the moon of Praxiton IV would look perfectly in place, and in fact, you’d feel the desire to shed your spacesuit and wear one, too.  NOTE:  This test works equally well for both men and women.  Examples to follow.

THE MUD PUDDLE TEST.  Ask (politely, of course; if the person is indeed suave, you shouldn’t be rude) your test subject to walk through a small mud puddle.  If your subject looks down at all, s/he has failed the test.  An average person would tiptoe, or perhaps walk around the puddle.  Pretenders to the suave throne—Faux-Suave people, if you will (more about them later)—would walk through the puddle, perhaps making some clothing-related quip (“Well, I’ll have to tip that shoeshine boy next time.”), but they are betrayed by their acknowledgement of the situation.  Truly suave people would simply walk through the puddle, totally confident that the mud would not dare dirty them.

Now that we’ve defined the rules, let’s line up a few people and see how they hold up against the harsh light of suavity. 

First, a note of respect to the KING AND QUEEN OF SUAVE:

SUAVE KINGGEORGE SANDERS.  As of this writing, George Sanders has been dead for thirty-eight years, and he is still more suave than anyone else in the world. Sanders set the standards; right up to his suicide note (“Dear world, I am leaving you because I am bored.  I am leaving you with your worries.  Good Luck.”), he lived the suave ideal.  No situation was too odd for the man.  Cases in point:  The 1960s TV incarnation of Batman (where Sanders, the inventor of the freezing glare, was inspired casting in the role of Mr. Freeze) and his last film, Psychomania (1972), as a devil worshiper dealing with a zombie biker gang.  Sanders played The Saint (before that pretender Roger Moore got to it) and The Falcon (Sanders’s brother, Tom Conway, tried his best, but in the end he was just a reflection of his sibling’s sun source). Sanders played countless charming scoundrels (indeed, the title of his 1960 biography was Memoirs of a Professional Cad), including the voice of Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book (Tony Jay took over the role in later Disney work, including TV’s Tale Spin, and nailed it) and, in short, graced the world with his Oscar-winning presence (1950’s All About Eve).

SUAVE QUEENMARLENE DIETRICH.  Remember what we said about the tuxedo test working for women, too?  Case in bloody point.  Cool, sexy, and commanding even into her old age, Dietrich could turn any man or woman into a dribbling puddle of goo. Rumor has it that she and Sanders were in a film together but all copies were destroyed, the producers deciding we were all unworthy to see it.  Dietrich had a sort of female auxiliary of boredom:  Bemusement.  While Sanders would arch an eyebrow at a person, Dietrich would more likely give one of those little titters that says, “That’s so cute, here’s a dollar. Leave me now.” 

Joining Sanders and Dietrich in our SUAVE HALL OF FAME  are:

JAMES MASON. Consider what would have happened if Cary Grant’s and James Mason’s roles were reversed in North by Northwest, making Mason the hero.  Suppose the nigh-unflappable Mason had asked the Glen Cove police, “Do you honestly believe that this happened the way you think it did?” They would have immediately replied, “No, you must be right, you’re free to go, sorry we bothered you.” Mason was also the only person to come out the other side of a Warren Beatty film (Heaven Can Wait, 1978) smelling good (talk about a practical application of the Mud Puddle test!).

JEREMY IRONS. The Great Suave Hope. The only person in this generation who had the chance to be as cool and suave as George Sanders. He even took the Sandersesque role of evil lion Scar in The Lion King, almost stealing the show. Irons seemed so elegantly bored in his Oscar-winning turn as Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune (1990), you thought he was gonna nod off—but you sure weren’t about to!

NIGEL HAWTHORNE. He made Sylvester Stallone look small and puny(er) in 1993’s Demolition Man just by showing up. His role of Sir Humphrey in TV’s Yes, Minister set the 1980s and ’90s standards for proper and British.  It’s because Hawthorne was so good that when he finally lost it (in either role), it was that much better to watch.

ROGER DELGADO. This is an example of a role being suave, although the actor may not be (I don’t know enough about the late Delgado to say for sure).  Delgado was the original portrayer of The Master on the British SF series Doctor Who.  The Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes, he was just way cool.  Advising the British government on the threat of nuclear Armageddon, he advises that they just follow the standard operating procedure they’ve set up: “Sticky tape on the windows, that sort of thing.” Anthony Ainley never achieved suaveness in his time in the role, suggesting that Delgado himself was indeed suave.

PATRICK McGOOHAN. Even in TV’s The Prisoner, when he was trapped in The Village, the brittle-voiced McGoohan seemed like he could outsmart his captors and torturers with a twitch of an eyebrow (lending credence to fans’ theories that he only stayed in The Village to test himself).  McGoohan was so suave and in control, he didn’t even carry a gun in Secret Agent (“Ugly, oily things.  They could hurt someone.”), though he could use one if called upon to do so.

But an actor doesn’t necessarily have to be British to be suave, as these Suave Hall of Famers prove:

JAMES GARNER. As TV’s Jim Rockford and Bret Maverick, the 1969 incarnation of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, and the hero of 1969’s Support Your Local Sheriff and its 1971 follow-up Support Your Local Gunfighter, the preternaturally nonchalant Garner has proven to be one of the most practical and self-preservation-savvy Suave Hall of Famers.  Garner plays characters who go out of their way to avoid trouble. Once Garner is in hot water, however, he tends to swim through with flying colors.

WILLIAM POWELL. Suave in a playful, happy-go-lucky way, Powell was not only cool and collected in dangerous situations, but he seemed to get a kick out of outsmarting bad guys while still realizing the gravity of the situation (unlike folks in our Faux-Suave category, which we’ll discuss momentarily).  When he teamed up with the warmly effervescent Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies, among others comedies they made together, Powell only seemed that much suaver.

The stately, formidable, Oscar-winning director/producer/
character actor best known as Professor Kingsfield in the movie and TV versions of The Paper Chase was, we bet, the only person George Sanders would have called “Sir.”

BETTE DAVIS. Boy, would we have liked to see Davis and McGoohan in the same movie, preferably as mother and son!  Listen carefully to their speech in their respective films and TV shows—they had the same kind of delivery!  Our Ms. Bette was almost invariably a strong, unflappable presence. She didn’t need to get into catfights (though some scripts forced her to, anyway); one word in her no-nonsense tones and one look from her, well, Bette Davis eyes, and the competition was wiped out.  It was truly a casting coup when Davis and Sanders were both cast in one of the wittiest, suavest, most gleefully cynical movies of all time, the Oscar-winning All About Eve.

CHOW YUN-FAT. Even amid the frenetic yet stylish action of John Woo’s Hard-Boiled thrillers, Chow hardly seems to break a sweat.  He’s still Hong Kong’s coolest, suavest import.


OWEN WILSON. When it comes to suave, Owen Wilson and his brother Luke are like the titular characters from Twins (1988)—all of it went in one direction.  Owen swaggers through life with a smirk and an unspoken air of “I know you like me” surrounding him, while Luke has a sort of puzzled look and an unspoken air of “How come you don’t like me?”

MICHAEL CAINE. Anyone who thinks that Brits of Cockney origin can’t be as suave as their more aristocratic countrymen need only check out the urbane Caine in Alfie and Gambit (both 1966), Sleuth (1972), California Suite (1978), Dressed To Kill (1980), Deathtrap (1982), and ironically enough, his three movies as Everyman non-Bondlike spy Harry Palmer (1965’s The Ipcress File, 1966’s Funeral in Berlin, and 1967’s Billion Dollar Brain). Caine isn’t suave all the time or in every role, but when he is, yowza!

LAIRD CREGAR. Silky-voiced, Philadelphia-born Cregar looked like a fearsome mountain of a man, an image that served him well in such classics as I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Heaven Can Wait (1943), and the 1944 remake of The Lodger. However, he blazed his own trail, mounting his own acclaimed stage productions of Oscar Wilde and The Man Who Came To Dinner. His smooth voice served him well in radio plays, including the role of Caspar Gutman in a production of The Maltese Falcon. But Cregar longed to leave his villain roles behind and move into romantic leading man parts, and to his frustration, his 300-pound girth stood in his way. He slimmed down on an insane crash diet in order to look as suave as his voice sounded. Tragically, the diet took a terrible toll on Cregar’s health, and he died of heart failure at the age of 31, just before the debut of the film that essentially killed him, Hangover Square (1945). Ah, the suavity that could have been….

Baldwin as Shadow
Baldwin as Lamont Cranston
ALEC BALDWIN. The only film in which we’ve seen the most imperturbable, versatile, and good-looking of the Brothers Baldwin get a chance to be truly suave is the 1994 version of The Shadow.  We’ll admit it would have been great to see original casting choice Jeremy Irons as the mysterious Lamont Cranston, but Alec was aces. Since then, Baldwin has left the path leading to The Suave Hall of Fame, opting for an award-winning career as a deft comic actor instead. No problem; as far as we're concerned, if the funny fits, wear it! :-)

This year (2012, for those keeping up with updates), the ever-suave and versatile Christopher Plummer finally won his way-overdue Oscar to add to his Tonys, Golden Globes, and Emmys: namely, the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his witty and poignant performance in Beginners. However, Plummer has been on the scene on stage and in movies since the 1950s, in a panorama of different roles, from The Sound of Music to adventures like The Man Who Would be King (as Rudyard Kipling), thrillers like The Silent Partner, Murder By Decree, Inside Man, and so much more!

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER. The nigh-indestructible erstwhile action hero and “Governator” of California comes off as far more witty and sophisticated in his interviews and public appearances than he does onscreen. In True Lies (1994), Ah-nuldt did prove that he looks good in a tux, but his profuse, flustered apologies as he jostled innocent bystanders gave him away.  Then again, vulnerability is a more unexpected—and therefore, appealing—quality in a big, tough guy like Ah-nuldt anyway.


James Bond is, by definition, suave, as all spies are.  But oddly, none of the actors who’ve played Agent 007 are themselves suave.  Take a look at what we mean….

SEAN CONNERY. Connery comes tantalizingly close, but he’s just too intense to be defined as truly suave. 
TIMOTHY DALTON. It’s no surprise that the dashingly broody Dalton’s pre-Bond lead roles included tormented Bronte heroes in 1970’s Wuthering Heights  and the 1983 British TV miniseries Jane Eyre.


ROGER MOORE. Moore is the king of the category we’ve defined as Faux-Suave.  Faux-Suave people look good and sound good (and by all accounts Roger Moore is a swell guy), but they’re always pretending. If they were given the Mud Puddle test, they’d put plastic bags on their shoes first. They’d leap into any situation, not because of confidence, but because it sounds like fun, as long as their slacks don’t get creased.

PIERCE BROSNAN. Much as we liked him as TV’s Remington Steele, Brosnan had initially struck us as Faux-Suave in his pre-007 days. But The Fourth Protocol (1987)and Goldeneye (1995) changed all that, and Brosnan blended suavity, action, and a touch of playfulness in his four James Bond films. 

DANIEL CRAIG. Wags initially pronounced chameleon Craig as “blond, brutish, and short,” but when we saw him in the 2004 British thriller Layer Cake, we knew he’d kick ass as James Bond! Admittedly, Craig’s take on 007 is more brusque than suave, though he’s also shown an unexpected tender side in Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008).


In many cases, one can define something by observing things that are the antithesis of that thing, such as defining white by pointing to black and saying, “Not that.”  To illustrate our point, we will list some people who are not suave, and explain why they are not.

SPENCER TRACY. Tracy had the bored, ready-for-anything demeanor, but he was just too rumpled to look good in a tux.  He’d have kept tugging at his collar.

HUMPHREY BOGART.  He was bored, confident, streetwise, and ready for anything, but Bogie’s appeal came from his very lack of polish.

Certainly not naive, but too “aw-shucks” and uncomfortable with his body to be truly suave (when was the last time you saw a gangly Suave Person?).

The Oscar-winning (The Color of Money, 1986) veteran actor and salad dressing king was handsome in a way that would have helped him squeak through the Tux Test (like in 1963’s playfully Hitchcockian The Prize), and films like The Sting (1973) had shown that he could be a sly charmer, but Newman had a strong grumpy streak that kept him short of the suave mark.
ROBERT REDFORD. Too boyish, even now.
TOM CRUISE. Too boyish, too cocky (as opposed to confident), and lately, a little too odd.
HUGH GRANT. The British heartthrob has always been too cuddly and too flustered for true suavity, though in recent years he’s shown a promising caddish streak in the Bridget Jones films, among others.
ROBERT DeNIRO. Too scary.
RICHARD GERE. Too hyper!
JOHNNY DEPP. Too eccentric (though we like him anyway).

The Oscar-winning (A Fish Called Wanda, 1988), ever-versatile Kline can be everything from Everyman to a swashbuckling hero, but he’s never been quite cool enough or bored enough to be genuinely suave.
JEFF GOLDBLUM. Too gangly and too strange (but we like him anyway).
Adrien Brody passes the
Tux Test with flying colors!
KIEFER SUTHERLAND. Too intense, and he proved in a most chuckleacious Saturday Night Live bit around 1991 that he simply isn’t a tux kind of guy.  (His dad, Donald, isn’t quite suave, either, though he’s had suave-esque moments.)

Our household’s favorite Best Actor Oscar-winner usually plays quirky and/or troubled types, but he can do Suave quite well when called upon to do so, like in The Affair of the Necklace (he even gets in a little swordplay in this 2001 period piece), The Brothers Bloom (2008), the romantic scenes between Brody and Naomi Watts in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake, and early scenes in the film that made him a star, The Pianist (2002).
Funny how most of our Ultimate Suave People are veteran thespians or actors from another era entirely. Christoph Waltz rose to Suave levels in Inglorious Basterds, but we haven’t seen enough of his work to know if he can pull it off time and time again. Maybe it’s just that most of today’s movies seem to be about either everyday people or brusque tough guys, neither of which lend themselves to suaveness.  And there’s that desire to see the baddies brought down a peg, popping the balloon of pomposity.  And a truly suave person wouldn’t allow themselves to fall in mud at the end of the film (see earlier test) so you end up with one of those I Must And Yet I Cannot" situations.

Got anyone you’d like to add to our Suave Hall of Fame? Let us know!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lovers and Other Stranglers: Alfred Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN

(Caution! Spoilers Ahead!)

Some people complain that they can’t read the same suspense novel multiple times, because they know how it all turns out. That doesn’t hold true for me; in fact, I read the endings of mysteries first! If the ending intrigues me enough, I’ll start over and read the book from start to finish. Same goes for movies; somehow I’m always able to watch them with fresh eyes no matter how many times I’ve seen them (though if the fam and I are watching movies at home, we’re not above making the occasional good-natured quip about some element in a much-viewed, much-loved movie). I first saw and loved Strangers on a Train (SoaT) during my childhood in the Bronx, when my older brother and I watched it on The Late Late Show (the middle-of-the-night movie show, not Craig Ferguson’s CBS talk show). In all the years I’ve seen SoaT since then, I’ve noticed many things about the film that somehow escaped me during countless viewings.

Poor Guy! He's just kicked up trouble!
Loosely adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel, the SoaT script was begun by mystery writer extraordinaire Raymond Chandler. When Chandler and Hitchcock failed to get along, Ben Hecht’s assistant Czenzi Ormonde took over for Chandler, with an assist by Whitfield Cook. (No surprise; the ornery Chandler also couldn’t get along with Billy Wilder when they worked together adapting James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity to the big screen.) It all starts on a New York-to-Washington train, where tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) accidentally bumps his sensibly-shod feet against Bruno Antony’s (Robert Walker) snappy two-tone shoes. Brightening, Bruno asks, “I beg your pardon, but aren’t you Guy Haines?” As they talk, it turns out Bruno is a big fan of Guy’s—such a big fan, in fact, that he’s been following Guy’s exploits in the gossip columns as well as on the tennis courts. Bruno’s been reading up on Guy’s society sweetie, Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), the daughter of Senator Morton (Hitchcock perennial co-star Leo G. Carroll), and the lovebirds’ intent to wed as soon as Guy can divorce his two-timing, knocked-up slut of a wife, Miriam Joyce Haines (Laura Elliott, better known as Kasey Rogers, who played Mrs. Larry Tate on TV’s Bewitched). Boy, TMZ has nothing on Bruno! 

Smoking's bad for your health: you might meet nicotine-addicted psychos!
Those bass fiddles sure make a racquet!
Bruno is full of wild ideas, including one for the perfect murder. “I used to put myself to sleep at night figuring it out,” he sighs blissfully.  His plan involves getting two people who’ve never met before—like, say, Guy and himself. Each of them has someone they’d like to kill—like Miriam, and Bruno’s hated father. Each man commits the other man’s murder: “Crisscross!”  Bruno figures that since neither man has a motive to kill the folks they’ve killed, theoretically they’ll never get caught. Guy, being a decent, non-homicidal fellow, laughs off Bruno’s wild ideas as the blatherings of a somewhat pesky but harmless kook before leaving the train—not realizing he left behind the monogrammed cigarette lighter Anne gave him. Aw, how nice of Bruno to hold onto the lighter for Guy…. Unaware his lighter went AWOL, Guy stops at his hometown, Metcalf, a town that seems to be somewhere between Maryland and Washington, DC. (Anyone here know for sure?) Guy brought money to pay for the divorce Miriam has been hounding him about—but now that she’s pregnant with another man’s baby (or so she claims; my husband Vinnie and I have always suspected the conniving Miriam was baby-free and trying to pull a fast one), and realizes “what all that tennis nonsense of yours (has led) to” in terms of money, prestige, and the glamorous life, the sly little bitch doesn’t want to ditch. Indeed, she’s blackmailing Guy into keeping her! “Make a pretty story,” Miriam purrs, “the Senator’s daughter involved with a married man. Especially when he’s about to become a father.” Breaking the bad news to Anne in a phone booth, Guy shouts, “I could strangle her!” Uh-oh, not the best choice of words, Guy….

Little does Miriam know her number is up!
Miriam’s the Metcalf Merry-Go-Round: everyone’s had a ride!
When Bruno hears of Miriam’s thumbs-down on the divorce, he springs into sly, sinister action. Looking innocently dapper, he tails Miriam and her two boy toys to the Metcalf carnival in a suspenseful yet arousing game of cat-and-mouse between suave but psychotic Bruno and the flirty, unsuspecting Miriam. Nice touch with Miriam making jokey yet multi-layered references to “satisfy(ing) my cravings,” which her dates don’t pick up on (to borrow a line from Dial M For Murder, “but we do, don’t we?”). Bruno catches up with Miriam and strangles her in that iconic scene where her murder is reflected in her fallen eyeglasses. For me, the cries for help in the dark when Miriam’s dates find her corpse is almost as chilling as the murder itself.

Borrowing a Dark Corner ad line, flirting with Bruno is flirting with death!

Every movie needs romantic interest, by George!
Later that night, Bruno intercepts Guy as our hero’s about to enter his home. He gives Guy the late Miriam’s broken glasses the same way a cat drops dead rodents or birds at their human’s feet. “I was very careful, Guy,” Bruno calmly but proudly assures our horrified protagonist. “Even when I dropped your cigarette lighter (at the murder site), I went back to pick it up.” Guy, of course, never dreamed nutjob Bruno was serious about his murder-plot ramblings, and he sure as hell isn’t about to bump off Bruno’s dad! How could he, even if he wanted to? Guy was on the train again at the time of Miriam’s murder, and he struck up a conversation with tipsy Delaware Tech Professor Collins (memorable bit by John Brown, Life of Riley’s Digger O’Dell), treating Guy to snappy patter and a song: “There was a man/who had a goat….” Too bad Professor Collins can’t remember their chat when he’s sober. As Guy explains to Senator Morton, Anne, and sweet, saucy teenage sister Barbara (played endearingly by Hitchcock’s scene-stealing daughter Patricia Hitchcock. More about Pat shortly), “When an alibi is full of bourbon, sir, it can’t stand up.” You’d think that Guy having seen the pickled professor on the train would be enough to clear him, but it’s a case of right place, wrong time: the Metcalf police’s timetable shows that Guy could’ve left the train in time to kill Miriam, then hopped aboard another in plenty of time to join Professor Collins for a goat-themed concerto.

Everybody conga!!!
Who knew cute Barbara Morton had such fire in her eyes?
Even worse, there’s no way in hell Bruno’s gonna let Guy off the hook, especially since he still has our hero's monogrammed lighter to plant on the murder site to pin the crime on him: “It’s not my murder, Guy. It’s yours.” Soon, packages containing guns and maps of Bruno’s house  are being dropped off at the hapless Guy's door. What must the mailman think? How can our hero explain this nightmare situation to Metcalf’s Finest without getting himself into deeper guano? Since Bruno is wealthy and presents himself charmingly when he’s not knocking off conniving little liars, he can easily insinuate himself into the prestigious Morton family’s social circle, and promptly does so. My favorite example: while waiting to play tennis, Guy notices the crowd of spectators as their heads swivel back and forth, all following the ball—except Bruno, whose puckish yet unnerving gaze is fixed on Guy. When Bruno meets Babs, her ballpark resemblance to the late Miriam isn’t lost on him: similar coloring and build, even the same kind of glasses. No wonder Bruno gets, um, distracted at the Mortons’ soiree when he’s trying to playfully demonstrate the ease of strangling someone. Bruno’s subject, flibbertigibbet Mrs. Cunningham (Norma Varden, one of my favorite screen ditzes in such films as Witness for the Prosecution) is not-so-playfully almost choked as well when Bruno accidentally makes eye contact with Barbara, getting so caught up in memories of the murder that the guests have to peel his fingers off the wheezing, sobbing Mrs. Cunningham’s throat. Bruno faints, and Guy drags him to another room to recover.  

Fisticuffs ensue, and the Fisticam is there!  Go, Robert Burks!
(Click the pic to see the Fisticam in action!)
When Bruno comes to, Guy gives him another one of our favorite Hitchcock shots, the “fisticam”POW! Right in the kisser! (The “fisticam” was used well in North by Northwest, too! But I digress…) Meanwhile, poor freaked-out Barbara sobs to big sis Anne about the near-strangling. Anne puts two plus two together, and Guy finally levels with Anne about the Bruno situation. Now if only there weren’t police detectives watching Guy’s every move!
Will Bruno’s evil plan go down the drain?
Since Bruno sent Guy a gun and a key to his house, Guy decides “to pay a little social call” on dear old Dad. Pop’s not home, but Bruno is (hiding in his father's bed, yet!). When Guy tells Bruno the “deal” is off, it’s frame-up time. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you, Mr. Haines," Bruno says coldly. "I’m a very clever fellow. I’ll think of something better than that. Much better.” Anne visits the Antony mansion hoping to make peace, but Bruno drops hints about planting the lighter on the Metcalf fairgrounds at dusk. Wouldn’t you know Bruno’s gonna do it the very day that tennis pro Guy is scheduled to play at Forest Hills?

If Guy cancels the Forest Hills match, the cops shadowing him, including Detective Leslie Hennessey (character actor/director Robert Gist of Peter Gunn, among others), will know something’s fishy. The result: a classic sequence that might have been silly if it hadn't been so skillfully filmed, performed, and milked for every last drop of suspense! Hitchcock, director of photography Robert Burks, and editor William Ziegler deftly cut between Bruno’s train trip to the fairgrounds and “thoughtful, methodical player” Guy in the tennis game of his life, playing like a madman and taking crazy chances in his desperation to finish (and win) the match fast so he can beat Bruno to Metcalf. (There's a man who takes his tennis seriously! :-)) Bruno’s vendetta hits a speed bump when he accidentally drops the telltale lighter down a storm drain, buying Guy time. I particularly enjoyed the playful turn Dimitri Tiomkin’s music takes as the panicky Bruno strains to reach the lighter while onlookers suggest solutions.

Do You Know This Man?
Do you folks have any idea who played the uncredited role of the ticket-taker at what I believe is Penn Station in Strangers on a Train? I'm talking about this gent manning the ticket window when Detectives Hennessey (Robert Gist) and Hammond (John Doucette) see Guy buy a train ticket and then dash away. When the detectives ask the ticket guy where our Guy was going, he replies "Metcalf!" with great excitement, as if he was the winner of a "Be in a Hitchcock Movie" contest. Vinnie and I love this guy, whoever he is! If you have any information about this man, please leave a comment at
TotED. Thanks, Crimestoppers!
In addition to winning the tennis match, multitasker Guy gets a head start on John Law when spunky Barbara, as per their plan, delays Hennessey by flirting with him and “accidentally” dropping face powder on him. (Nowadays, Babs would have had to pitch her solid compact at him—ouch! :-)) Eventually, Bruno reaches the lighter, Metcalf, and the fairgrounds. Guy catches up with him, but so do the Metcalf police. A most unlucky chain reaction occurs as one cop's warning shot hits the carousel operator, who in turn falls on the speed lever. As an elderly carny (Harry Hines) crawls beneath the speeding carousel to turn it off, Bruno and Guy duke it out under the carousel horses’ hooves as the screaming riders hang on for dear life (for real! After that, Hitchcock swore he'd never make an actor do such a dangerous stunt again) . Bless him, Guy even manages to save a kid from being flung from the carousel while Bruno’s trying to stomp Guy’s hands loose. Alas, the carousel is shut down too abruptly (damn physics!), erupting in cataclysm, carnage and (if SoaT took place today) one hell of a class action lawsuit. Guy manages to escape with just a few bruises, but Bruno is dying, pinned beneath the wreckage. With the police surrounding them, Guy begs Bruno to stop the madness and confess to the murder. An evil bastard to the end, Bruno persists in blaming Guy for Miriam’s murder. Luckily, the witness who saw Bruno following Miriam around the fairgrounds that fateful night is there to set the lawmen straight, and as Bruno dies, his hand unclenches to reveal the incriminating lighter he never got a chance to plant. “Who was he, bud?” the witness asks Guy. “Bruno Antony,” Guy says grimly. “A very clever fellow.”

Stunt doubles? We don’t need no stinkin’ stunt doubles!
Fade in to the Mortons sitting anxiously by the phone. It rings, and Anne grabs it. It’s Guy, and Anne’s laughing and crying and saying, “Of course I’ll be there, darling.” The Morton sisters hug as Anne says, “Guy will be back tomorrow. He wants me to bring him some things.” SoaT ends with Anne and Guy sitting together on the train, smiling and talking. Another passenger sitting across from them looks up from his magazine and says, “Aren’t you Guy Haines?” Guy, ever affable, opens his mouth to answer, but Anne shoots him a look that clearly says, Remember what happened last time? Guy and Anne look at the poor man as if he’d just flashed them, then they scoot hurriedly to other seats as the gent shrugs and returns to his magazine. The End. Of course, some SoaT fans insist that this is a perfect display of the film’s much-discussed homosexual subtext, clucking over the fact that the man in that scene happens to be a clergyman, collar and all, and how it’s ever so symbolic that despite Anne and Guy’s eagerness to wed, they’re fleeing someone with the power to marry the couple. If I may say so, I think these folks are looking too hard at this particular scene. After all, it’s not like Guy and Anne are gonna get married right there on the train; people in their social stratum go for great big weddings surrounded by tons of security! :-)

The deluxe two-disc SoaT DVD set with guest commentators and extras galore has been part of our video library for a while now, but Cinemax was where I first saw the preview version back in 1992. That ending shows Anne telling Barbara that Guy needs fresh garb because “He says he looks silly in his tennis clothes.” Since we cable viewers hadn’t been alerted to the alternate ending, Cinemax got a whole bunch of outraged responses. (The fella who fielded the calls apologized and swore there was no malice intended, it just happened to be the print they’d received.)

Men, sex, ice cream—Miriam’s insatiable!
Guilt (feelings) by association had always been one of Hitchcock’s favorite themes, and it’s especially well-done in SoaT. Guy is horrified at the news of Miriam’s violent death, yet he can’t help feeling at least a tiny bit relieved to be rid of that scheming bitch. In fact, Guy and Senator Morton seem to be the closest thing to mourners that Miriam gets in the film. Witness this brittle dialogue as the Mortons break the news of Miriam’s murder to Guy, unaware that Bruno has already taken care of it:

Senator Morton:  “Dreadful business, dreadful. Poor unfortunate girl.”
Barbara:  “She was a tramp.”
Morton:  “She was a human being. Let me remind you that even the most unworthy of us has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Barbara:  “From what I hear, she pursued it in all directions.”

3 words: Class. Action. Lawsuit!
In a crazy way, despite his horrific ordeal, Guy comes out on top. Think of it: a total stranger has gotten rid of his problem. People already liked Guy even before SoaT's sinister events; they’re sympathetic to his ordeal; he gets to be a tennis champ; he beds down the Senator’s daughter; he's on the fast track to getting a cushy government job—who’s better than Guy? As for Bruno, for someone who spent so much time plotting this “crisscross” murder in his mind (and wasn't that how Hitchcock's films evolved? How's that for life imitating art and vice-versa?) before he finally found some poor slob he viewed as an ally, Bruno sure was sloppy about carrying out his wicked plan in real life. The way I see it, Bruno assumed too much. The plan could have worked if Guy really had agreed out loud to being part of the double-murder scheme and they’d actually made specific plans from the outset: “Okay, Bruno, here’s the plan. You kill Miriam on Friday at 10 p.m. in Metcalf. I’ll make sure I’m in Washington, DC with a truckload of witnesses at that time. Now here's the plan for dear old Dad….” But with wacko Bruno going ahead and setting the plan in motion unannounced, just when Guy has a weak alibi…well, the police may not suspect Bruno, but they sure as hell suspect Guy, which would surely put a crimp in Part 2 of the plan. Just goes to show that half-assed execution (no pun intended) can screw up even the best murder plot!

Some have claimed Hitchcock was notorious for favoring images and set pieces over characterization, but Hitch included more well-drawn character touches in SoaT than he gets credit for. Of course, this is also the result of the script and the nuances in the cast’s uniformly fine performances, but the atmospheric directorial touches pull it all together. For example, if you listen carefully, you’ll notice that the first time Bruno phones Guy after they meet on the train, Bruno’s stern father (Jonathan Hale) and his sweet but mentally-maladjusted mother (Marion Lorne, the second of SoaT’s future Bewitched stars; she played ditzy Aunt Clara) are arguing about him in the background, regarding a hit-and-run involving Bruno. Clearly Bruno was wreaking havoc with innocent lives long before he met poor Guy. Father wants Bruno put away where he can’t cause any more destruction, “…and if necessary, put under restraint!” Hitchcock also makes good use of tight shots of Guy to increase our sense of his claustrophobia, doom, and entrapment.

The family dynamics among the characters in SoaT, from the stylish, witty yet caring Mortons, to the sex-tinged hostility between Guy and Miriam, to the nigh-incestuous love between Bruno and his almost-equally disturbed mother, not to mention Bruno’s obvious attraction to Guy, would make a good thesis for some enterprising film student if it hasn’t already been done. Everyone is perfect in their roles, especially the two leads. The character of Bruno Antony—which, tragically, would be Robert Walker’s penultimate role—was a huge departure for Walker, best known for playing wholesome boys-next-door. (Walker’s final role was as a Communist in My Son John. He died from an adverse reaction to prescription drugs just before filming wrapped, and the filmmakers actually finished MSJ using footage from SoaT.) Why Walker didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his SoaT performance is one of cinema’s great mysteries; I bet it was some stupid reason, like the Oscar voters not wanting to give a nod to a villainous role.

Under his attractive, witty, friendly façade, Bruno is the soul of guile, menace, and snobbery, and Walker plays it like he was born that way. If Walker had lived, I think he’d have been a magnificent Iago in some film version of Othello (a modern-dress version, perhaps?). Walker nails the little details about Bruno, too, starting with his appearance: impeccably groomed and attired, but with a few oddball touches, like his two-tone shoes and “Bruno” tie clip from Mother. Unlike so many thrillers where you can spot the sicko a mile away, Bruno’s a quirky yet subtle psychotic. The party scene is one of my favorites, with Bruno casually buttonholing Senator Morton to discuss his idea for “harnessing the life force. It’ll make atomic power look like the horse and buggy….”  Later at the party, when Bruno is listening to Mrs. Cunningham prattling about murder ideas before his little strangulation demonstration, he gets this bored yet exasperated look on his face, as if he’s thinking, “Oh, please! What amateurs!”

Hitchcock originally wanted William Holden to play Guy Haines, but much as Vinnie and I like Holden, we’ve always thought he would have been too assertive for the role. A William Holden kind of Guy Haines would be too sharp and cynical to let Bruno push him around; hell, I bet Bill would mop the floor with Bruno! Farley Granger had a vulnerability about him that made him a more believable Guy Haines. Sometimes his line readings have a touch of woodenness, kind of like a young Peter Weller in his Buckaroo Banzai days, and yet it comes across as a kind of intense sensitivity. Granger’s delivery works well, with Guy’s appropriately querulous note in his response when Bruno hands him Miriam’s broken glasses: “I had nothing to do with this. The police will believe me.” He sounds like he’s trying—and failing—to convince himself that what he’s saying is true, and it works beautifully.

Pat and Pop on the set
Ruth Roman has been accused of simpering her way through the role of Anne Morton, but she kept my sympathy throughout, and I’m no simper-sympathizer! :-) In addition, I felt that Roman and Granger had good romantic chemistry. But Patricia Hitchcock and Leo G. Carroll get the best lines, effortlessly stealing their scenes. Just as I’ve always thought Robert Walker should have gotten an Oscar nomination for his performance (even if it had to be posthumous, sadly), Pat Hitchcock deserved one for Best Supporting Actress as Barbara Morton. Indeed, I’ve always wished she'd had a lengthier film/stage career outside her dad’s films and TV series. Pat’s deceptively perky demeanor makes her cheeky, no-holds-barred wit all the funnier. Her growing horror at Bruno’s weird reaction to her resemblance to Miriam touched my heart, making me want to give poor Babs a big, comforting hug. In Pat’s able hands, Barbara’s the kind of girl you want as a sister or close pal. She brightly plays off Carroll well, too; for example:

Barbara (to Guy and Anne after the murder news): “Well, you two, nothing stands in your way now. You can be married right away. You’re free!”
Morton: “One doesn’t always have to say what one thinks.”
Barbara: “Father, I am not a politician.”

I got a kick out of how Carroll’s Senator Morton always thinks first of how the sinister events will affect his career. Seeing Det. Hennessey shadowing Guy, he says, “Is he likely to picket my office?” When Guy confirms this (with a mischievous twinkle in his eye), Morton suggests that aspiring politician Guy should work at home for a while, “for your own peace of mind, of course.”  Carroll drolly conveys Morton’s elitist attitude, too. When he finds out Guy’s would-be alibi is a professor, Morton asks, with an air of expectancy, “Harvard?” When Guy tells him it’s Delaware Tech, Morton looks disappointed, as if he’s thinking, Damn it, man, couldn’t you have spoken with someone from Princeton, at least?  Another great Carroll/Morton moment comes after Bruno’s aborted strangulation attempt on Mrs. Cunningham. He tsk-tsks, “First thing you know, they’ll be talking about orgies.” After a beat, he says, “I’d better get back!” Off he goes! :-)

SoaT even looks fabulous, from Burks’s sleek black-and-white cinematography to Ted Haworth’s art direction, especially the train set (no pun intended). Those wonderful Art Deco-style touches, and such niceties as a desk with pens in the Observation Car—did mass transportation ever really look so glamorous? I love train travel myself, though I don’t always get opportunities to take advantage of it, but SoaT is the next best thing!