Alfred Hitchcock silent films added to Unesco UK Memory of the World Register
The nine Alfred Hitchcock silent films recently restored by the British Film Institute have been added to the Unesco UK Memory of the World Register (website), “a list of documentary heritage which holds cultural significance specific to the UK.” The nine Hitchcock movies are the following: The Pleasure Garden (1925), The Ring (1927), Downhill / When Boys Leave Home (1927), The Lodger (1927), Easy Virtue (1928), Champagne (1928), The Farmer’s Wife (1928), The Manxman (1929), and Blackmail (1929) – also released as a talkie, Britain’s first. Only one Hitchcock-directed silent remains lost, The Mountain Eagle / Fear o’ God (1926).
Most of those movies have little in common with the suspense thrillers Hitchcock would crank out in Britain and later in Hollywood from the early 1930s on. But a handful of his silents already featured elements and themes that would recur in some form or other throughout the director’s talkie career; for instance, a wrongly accused man in The Lodger – a plot device also found in The 39 Steps, The Wrong Man, North by Northwest.
Besides, the silent Alfred Hitchcock movies allows for a relatively rare glimpse into the work of now largely forgotten silent film and/or stage stars of the period, from both sides of the Atlantic. Those include musical stage icon Ivor Novello, who toplines both The Lodger and (absurdly cast as a youth) Downhill, in addition to Isabel Jeans, Carl Brisson, John Stuart, Lillian Hall-Davis, Hollywood imports Carmelita Geraghty and Virginia Valli, and 1920s UK superstars Betty Balfour and Anny Ondra – a Central European actress whose charmingly accented voice was dubbed by the very British Joan Barry in the sound version of Blackmail. (Hollywood import Nita Naldi, the vamp who seduces Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand, is the star of the lost The Mountain Eagle.)
In the US, the Hitchcock Nine have already been presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival organizers, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the BAMcinématek.
Alfred Hitchcock movies: The talkies
During the talkie era, Alfred Hitchcock directed a whole array of top international movie stars, among them Gregory Peck, Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Robert Donat, Tallulah Bankhead, Claude Rains, Robert Walker, Michael Wilding, Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman, Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Richard Todd, Robert Young, Maureen O’Hara, John Gielgud, Charles Laughton, Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Robert Cummings, Sylvia Sidney, and Robert Montgomery. Besides, in some shade or other there were the Hitchcock Blondes: Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman, Priscilla Lane, Madeleine Carroll, Eva Marie Saint, Carole Lombard, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Anne Baxter, Ann Todd, Grace Kelly, Vera Miles, Julie Andrews, and Tippi Hedren.
Alfred Hitchcock never won a competitive Academy Award, though he was nominated five times: Rebecca (1940), the year’s Best Picture winner; Lifeboat (1944); Spellbound (1945); Rear Window (1954), and Psycho (1960). In 1968, Hitchcock was handed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.
Nine Alfred Hitchcock-directed performances received Academy Award nominations: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson (supporting) for Rebecca; Albert Bassermann (supporting) for Foreign Correspondent (1940); Fontaine for Suspicion (1941); and in supporting roles, Michael Chekhov for Spellbound; Claude Rains for Notorious (1946); Ethel Barrymore for The Paradine Case (1947); and Janet Leigh for Psycho. Joan Fontaine was the only Hitchcock winner, for her performance as Cary Grant’s possibly soon-to-be-murdered wife in Suspicion.
The London-born Alfred Hitchcock died at age 80 in 1980 in the Los Angeles suburb of Bel Air.
Ivor Novello The Lodger image: BFI.
Louise Brooks in Prix de Beauté: San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Louise Brooks will kick off the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. At 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 17, the SFSFF will screen Augusto Genina’s Prix de Beauté a.k.a. Beauty Prize at the Castro Theater. Released in 1930 – when talkies had already become established in much of the moviemaking world – the French-made Prix de Beauté came out in both sound and silent versions, a widely common practice in those days as many theaters had yet to get wired for sound. Needless to say, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Prix de Beauté print is the silent version, recently restored by the Cineteca di Bologna.
Prix de Beauté, which marked the last time Louise Brooks starred in a feature film, tells the story of a typist who enters a beauty contest – much to her boyfriend’s chagrin – and finds herself on her way to becoming Miss Europe and the object of desire of multitudes of men. The Prix de Beauté story and screenplay were concocted by G.W. Pabst, for whom Brooks had starred in Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, and René Clair, whose directorial efforts – e.g., Under the Roofs Paris, À Nous la Liberté – would inspire the likes of Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian, Charles Chaplin, and their myriad imitators, emulators, and “homage-payers.”
Prix de Beauté: Louise Brooks talkie minus Brooks’ voice
The sound version of Prix de Beauté turned out to be Louise Brooks’ first talkie – though, ironically, her singing and dialogue were dubbed. Back in 1929, Brooks had refused to return to Paramount to dub her lines in the silent-turned-talkie The Canary Murder Case; Margaret Livingston (Sunrise) had to step in to provide the Canary’s voice. If IMDb release dates are correct, audiences would have to wait until the February 1931 release of Frank Tuttle’s It Pays to Advertise, a Norman Foster / Carole Lombard comedy in which Brooks has a small supporting role, to hear her actual voice.
Also of note, Prix de Beauté was shot by Louis Née and Rudolph Maté. The latter was to become a five-time Academy Award-nominated Hollywood cinematographer, among whose credits are Leo McCarey’s Love Affair (1939), with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer; Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, with Joel McCrea and Laraine Day; Alexander Korda’s That Hamilton Woman, with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; Sam Wood’s The Pride of the Yankees (1942), with Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright; Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942), with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard; and Charles Vidor’s Gilda (1946), with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford.
Besides Louise Brooks, Prix de Beauté features Georges Charlia, Augusto Bandini, André Nicolle, Marc Ziboulsky, Yves Glad, Alex Bernard, Gaston Jacquet, and Jean Bradin.
Prix de Beauté: Post-screening party
For the gala opening-night screening of Prix de Beauté, tickets cost $20 for the general public. Those wishing to join the post-screening opening-night party – “with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the Frisky Frolics, and more in the amazing top floor loft of the historic McRoskey Mattress Company” – will have to shell out $42. San Francisco Silent Film Festival members pay $15 and $35, respectively. Don’t expect to rub elbows with Louise Brooks at the party, but do expect to bump into Louise Brooks look-alikes.
Louis Brooks in Prix de Beauté photo via the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
‘The Cat and the Canary’ 1939: Haunted house comedy among Packard’s Halloween movies
There’s much to recommend among the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus and State Theater (website) screenings in Culpeper, Virginia, in October 2013, including the until recently super-rare Bob Hope / Paulette Goddard haunted house comedy The Cat and the Canary (1939). And that’s one more reason to hope that the Republican Party’s foaming-at-the-mouth extremists (and their voters and supporters), ever bent on destroying the economic and sociopolitical fabric of the United States (and of the rest of the world), will not succeed in shutting down the federal government and thus potentially wreak havoc throughout the U.S. and beyond. (Image: Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in The Cat and the Canary.)
Screening on Thursday, October 31, at the Packard Theater, Elliott Nugent’s The Cat and the Canary is a remake of Paul Leni’s better-known 1927 silent movie featuring Creighton Hale and Universal’s top star of the ’20s, Laura La Plante. Starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, the 1939 The Cat and the Canary isn’t exactly a masterpiece – not even close. But how could I not recommend a movie that features the gorgeous Goddard on the cusp of stardom, and a first-rate supporting cast that includes Gale Sondergaard, John Beal, George Zucco, Douglass Montgomery, and Elizabeth Patterson? In fact, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to spend Halloween 2013.
By the way, the 1939 The Cat and the Canary apparently was successful enough to warrant a sort-of sequel the following year: The Ghost Breakers, also starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.
More Halloween movies: The Invisible Man + The Wolf Man
Culpeper’s State Theater will also be a good place to spend Halloween Eve, October 30. Two Universal classics, The Invisible Man (1933) and The Wolf Man (1941) will be presented that evening.
Directed by James Whale (Frankenstein, The Old Dark House), The Invisible Man made a movie star out of renowned stage actor Claude Rains – in all likelihood the only individual to become a movie star by (mostly) not being seen on screen. In George Waggner’s The Wolf Man, Lon Chaney Jr. follows in the footsteps of his father, who had the title roles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, and Mr. Wu. Unlike Lon Chaney, however, Chaney Jr. was never to become a major Hollywood star. Perhaps because in The Wolf Man he had to share the screen with inveterate scene-stealers Maria Ouspenskaya, Warren William, Bela Lugosi, and a thoroughly visible Claude Rains.
Here are a couple more Halloween recommendations: Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), screening on October 23 at the State Theater, and Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited (1944), screening at the Packard on October 24.
Starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, Invasion of the Body Snatchers tracks an alien invasion that threatens to transform all of humankind into human-looking pods – incapable of feelings or thoughts. Considering that the overwhelming majority of human beings already act like human-looking pods, it’s hard to understand why the aliens would bother; nevertheless, Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains one of the most thrilling and most well-acted horror sci-fiers ever made. As for The Uninvited, it’s a ghost story mixed with suspense, humor, and romance, featuring excellent production values, and capable performances by Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, and Gail Russell, one of the most hauntingly beautiful actresses to come out of Hollywood.
Note: The State Theater screenings should be immune from the federal government shutdown. For more information, visit the State Theater’s website.
Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in The Cat and the Canary photo: Paramount Pictures.
‘Closely Watched Trains’: Oscar-winning movie classic gets special Academy screening
Jirí Menzel’s first solo feature film, the World War II-set drama Closely Watched Trains / Ostre sledované vlaky (1966) was the 1967 Oscar winner in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Those living in the Los Angeles area will have the chance to watch a new print of Menzel’s classic on the big screen at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 23, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. To be hosted by Oscar-nominated writer-director Philip Kaufman, the Closely Watched Trains screening will feature a rare onstage discussion with Jirí Menzel himself.
A mix of light comedy and somber drama, Closely Watched Trains tells the story of Milos (Václav Neckár), a young railway worker whose routine life in a small Czech town is upended following the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. While on the train tracks, Milos finds love, adventure, and tragedy.
‘Closely Watched Trains’ cast, awards
Closely Watched Trains is based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal, who also wrote the screenplay with Jirí Menzel. Václav Neckár is excellent as the youthful, inexperienced Milos, while the film’s supporting cast includes Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodský, Vladimír Valenta, Alois Vachek, Ferdinand Kruta, Jitka Scoffin, and Jitka Zelenohorská.
Besides its Academy Award win, Closely Watched Trains was a Directors Guild of America nominee; the National Society of Film Critics’ third choice for Best Film and Best Screenplay; a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film (at the time there was also a category for English-language non-American films); and a BAFTA Award nominee for Best Film and Best Soundtrack (Jirí Pavlik).
Director-writer Philip Kaufman’s credits include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), with Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams; The Right Stuff (1983), with Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, and Sam Shepard; The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), with Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin, and Juliette Binoche; Henry & June (1990), with Fred Ward, Maria de Medeiros, and Uma Thurman; and Quills (2000), with Geoffrey Rush, Michael Caine, Kate Winslet, and Joaquin Phoenix.
As found on the Academy’s website, Jirí Menzel “is a filmmaker, actor and stage director who has garnered worldwide acclaim for his bittersweet, philosophical comedies that owe much to the modern Czech literary tradition. Born in Prague in 1938, Menzel was trained in film at FAMU, the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, from 1958 to 1962.”
Jirí Menzel has directed or co-directed nearly 30 movies. In addition to Closely Watched Trains, notable efforts include Capricious Summer (1968), Shortcuts (1981, no connection to the 1993 Robert Altman movie Short Cuts), the Oscar-nominated My Sweet Little Village (1985), the Berlin Film Festival co-winner Larks on a String (1990, Golden Bear shared with Costa-Gavras’ The Music Box), and the comedy-drama I Served the King of England (2006).
According to the IMDb, Jirí Menzel’s most recent movie is Skirt Chasers, a comedy to come out in the Czech Republic later this month.
Václav Neckár Closely Watched Trains photo: Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.