Alfred Hitchcock is the focus of tonight's programming on Turner Classic Movies, which will be showing five of the director's films: Stage Fright, I Confess, Dial M for Murder, The Wrong Man, and Strangers on a Train.
None of them is a masterpiece; all of them are worth your time. My favorite of the five is I Confess, partly because of its intriguing plot about a murderer who confesses his crime to a priest who later becomes the chief suspect in the case; and partly because Montgomery Clift is quite good as the tormented priest. Anne Baxter is his leading lady.
However flawed, I find both Stage Fright and Dial M for Murder enjoyable. The former is immensely helped by Alastair Sim's performance, though Jane Wyman does solid work as the heroine while Marlene Dietrich gets to sing a song or two.
In Dial M for Murder, Grace Kelly looks pretty, which helped her win a Best Actress Oscar in early 1955 – for The Country Girl, in which she looks plain. Ray Milland and Robert Cummings co-star, but it's John Williams' police inspector who steals the show.
The Wrong Man is one of Hitchcock's most uncharacteristically “serious” efforts. Both Henry Fonda and Vera Miles are excellent as, respectively, the wrongly accused man and his wife. A good, disturbing film, but not “enjoyable” the way Hitchcock movies often are.
Unlike most people, I find Strangers on a Train both slow-moving and quite silly – despite an intriguing premise: the possibility of a murder swap. Farley Granger looks very handsome, Ruth Roman looks very alluring, and Robert Walker looks very deranged – and very affectedly “gay,” too, what with all that OMG eye-rolling. Walker's spot-on performance and Robert Burks' black-and-white cinematography are the two best things about the film. Screenplay co-written by Raymond Chandler.
Hitchcock has nothing to do with Grand Illusion, notable as the first non-English-language film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Directed by Jean Renoir, this anti-war drama is considered one of the greatest movies of the '30s. I disagree – for one, I find it overlong and I much prefer Renoir's The Rules of the Game – but Grand Illusion has numerous undeniable qualities, including Erich von Stroheim's and Pierre Fresnay's performances, and Renoir's “naturalistic” use of deep focus. Not to be missed.
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
8:00 PM STAGE FRIGHT (1950) An acting student goes undercover to prove a singing star killed her husband. Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock Cast: Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding. Black and white. 110 mins
10:00 PM I CONFESS (1953) A priest suspected of murder can only clear himself by violating the sanctity of the confessional. Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock Cast: Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden. Black and white. 95 mins
12:00 AM DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) A straying husband frames his wife for the murder of the man he'd hired to kill her. Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock Cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings. Color. 105 mins
2:00 AM THE WRONG MAN (1956) A musician is mistaken for a vicious thief, with devastating results. Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock Cast: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle. Black and white. 105 mins
4:00 AM STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) A man's joking suggestion that he and a chance acquaintance trade murders turns deadly. Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker. Black and white. 101 mins
6:00 AM GRAND ILLUSION (1937) French POWs fight to escape their German captors during World War I. Dir.: Jean Renoir Cast: Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Marcel Dalio. Black and white. 113 mins