Movie of the Month: August 2011

On August 25, 1960, only 12 days after the director’s 61st birthday, Alfred Hitchcock released his last black and white film.  Psycho is not only his scariest film to date, but it was also his most controversial.  The movie shocked audiences for a number of reasons, the first of which was the infamous shower sequence.  After seeing the movie and recognizing how vulnerable people are in the shower, Janet Leigh reportedly took baths for the remainder of her life.  The power of Psycho doesn’t come from the music (although it may contribute).  The primary reason that we are still frightened by it today is because Hitchcock shows the characters being attacked in the moment when they are most defenseless.

Alfred Hitchcock first had the idea to make Psycho after seeing the success of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill.  He wanted to make his own low-budget thriller.  It just so happened that it ended up being so good that it is arguably his best film.  The movie did not have the star power of his previous projects, North by Northwest and Vertigo.  Hitchcock instead used actors and actresses that required a smaller paycheck.  Each of the players ended up moving on to other notable films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Manchurian Candidate, and Bullitt.

The final shot of Psycho stands out in my mind as one of the most haunting that I have ever seen.  I won’t spoil the ending for those who have yet to see it, but I promise that it is one worth checking into.  In fact, the whole movie is a rewarding experience.  This is one of my three favorite Hitchcock films (the others being Vertigo and Rear Window), and without a doubt, my favorite horror film.  It is a masterpiece, low-budget or not, and it contains the most shocking thrills that the Master of Suspense ever gave us.  And if you don’t believe me, watch the trailer below:

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Film Review: The Trial (1962)

Without any flashy effects, The Trial remains the most realistic depiction of a dream that I have ever seen.  If, that is, that Orson Welles meant it to be so.  Although it is not pertaining to the central conflict of the narrative, I constantly juggled the ideas that I had relating to how the film should be received. If it is supposed to have any  applications to everyday life, I must have missed them.

But it is very easy to see how I was fascinated.  The film begins with a short fable narrated by Welles.  The tale is one told by the inhabitants of the world that we are about to visit.  Once we get there, the intrigue from the very beginning carries over to our introduction to Joseph K., played by Anthony Perkins.  The scene begins with Joseph lying alone in his bed.  In any other movie, this would be insignificant, but does Welles mean it as a hint?  Could he have warned us from the start that it is all just a dream?  Dream or not, Joseph never considers the question.  This is real life to him.

We are then gripped by the revealing of a visitor in the bedroom: an inspector whose purpose is to arrest Joseph for an unnamed crime.  It all seems perfectly normal up to that point, but as we see Joseph’s workplace, his friends, and his accusers, his world begins to seem reflective of our dreams…or nightmares.

There is a scene with a wooden shack sitting at the top of a spiral staircase within a brightly lit building.  The police inspector steals Joseph’s clothes.  A man enters a doorway and later exits to discover that the door is now twice as big.  It is really very incredible that The Trial can appear so nonsensical, resembling the films of Bunuel and Lynch, yet still keep a firm grasp on our attention and emotions.

Rating: 5/5