Saturday, July 8, 2017

50 YEARS OF HITCHCOCK



Turner Classic Films is celebrating 50 years of  Hitchcock all this month, so I thought I’d pay tribute by re- posting my blog on Hitchcock along with a quiz for true Hitchcock fans (where did he appear in that movie?)

     Alfred Hitchcock is probably my all time favorite director, followed
closely by Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang.  I have enjoyed Hitchcock films my entire
life, both as a kid and later as a cinema student, when I learned more
about the man and his maverick techniques.
      Hitchcock’s style was unique and easily recognizable, so much so
that Mel Brooks tenderly paid homage to it in his film High Anxiety.
Hitch (as he was known to colleagues) pioneered numerous innovative
shooting and editorial techniques to create suspense. When asked how
he created suspense Hitchcock once said that seeing a bomb, for example,
then watching it explode did little in the way of creating suspense. Instead,
one creates suspense by cutting between the bomb set to go off, a clock,
and, say, the fearful eyes of the intended victim.  He was able to do this by
first, meticulously creating a storyboard depicting his shots, scene by scene.
     Also, by allowing our eyes to be that of the camera and by moving slowly
around his subjects, he engaged us in a form of voyeurism.  We felt the
actors’ fear, their anxiety. And let me assure you, his characters usually
had much about which to feel fearful.
    A common thread running through his films was that of a man wrongly
accused of a crime (ie. The Thirty-Nine Steps, Saboteur, The Wrong Man,
North by Northwest, and Strangers on a Train) and Hitchcock’s
experiences as a child came into play here.
     He apparently had a lonely, isolated childhood, made worse by his
obesity. Lots of time for his imagination to grow and fester, I would imagine.
When he was a child his father “punished” him by sending him to the local
police station with a note asking that he be “locked up for ten minutes for his
”infraction”. This was undoubtedly done as a way to teach a lesson that
wouldn’t be easily forgotten. If that was the case, it worked. It developed in
Hitchcock a lifelong fear of being locked up and a distrust of the police in general. 
His Jesuit upbringing influenced him as well and many of his films dealt with
religious, or at least morally ethical dilemmas (Vertigo, I Confess).
    In addition to his “man-on-the-run-having-been-wrongly-accused” themes,
Hitchcock’s films shared other similarities. Most of them starred “icy
blondes” such as Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles, Doris Day, Grace Kelly
and Tippi Hedren, with Grace Kelly probably having been his personal
favorite. His daughter, Patricia, appeared in bit parts and his wife,
Alma, was the editor of most of his films. Another element common to his
pictures was the use of well known places of interest such as The Statue of
Liberty in Saboteur, Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest, Royal Albert
Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much and the Forrest Hills Tennis Stadium
in Strangers on a Train. (Incidentally, Robert Walker’s performance as socio-
path, Bruno Antony in this film, is chilling).
     Hitchcock also introduced what came to be known as the “MacGuffin”, vague,
unimportant devices whose sole purpose was to move the story forward.  These
might come in many forms ranging from a formula whispered by a diplomat (Foreign
Correspondent) to hidden microfilm (North by Northwest), to a bottle of wine
containing uranium (Notorious).
      It’s difficult to state my favorite Hitchcock film, I’ve enjoyed so many. If pressed,
I would probably have to say that The Lady Vanishes, Shadow of a Doubt, The
Man Who Knew Too Much (the second version starring Jimmy Stewart and
Doris Day), and North by Northwest are amongst my favorites. Hitchcock’s
unique blend of psychological suspense, sexual undercurrents, and ironic
humor are what made him an icon. (Though he never achieved an Oscar for a
particular movie, he did ultimately receive a Lifetime Achievement award).
   
    Hitchcock’s “signature” was the cameo appearances he made in all his
films.  See if you can “find Hitch” by ithmatching the film below with the scene
in which he turned up.



1.  THE LADY VANISHES                            A. Being pushed in a wheelchair at an airport
2.  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN                       B. In the center of a crowd wearing a “bowler” hat
3.  THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH       C. Walking down the street carrying a trumpet case
4.  LIFEBOAT                                              D. Missing a bus during the opening credits
5.  TO CATCH A THIEF                                 E. Winding a clock in a songwriter’s apartment
6.  SHADOW OF A DOUBT                          F. In a crowded Victoria Station, smoking a cigarette
7.  THE BIRDS                                           G. At “a hunt”, walking a horse across the screen
8.  DIAL M FOR MURDER                         H. In a Moroccan market place watching acrobats
9.  NOTORIOUS                                          I. In before and after pictures in a newspaper ad *
10.REAR WINDOW                                     J. Coming out of an elevator
11.PSYCHO                                               K. In silhouette, behind a door marked “Registrar of   
                                                                         Births and Deaths”
12. TOPAZ                                                 L. Seen through a window wearing a cowboy hat
13. FRENZY                                               M. Boarding a train carrying a bass fiddle
14. TORN CURTAIN                                    N. Seated in a hotel lobby holding a small child
15. FAMILY PLOT                                       O. In a class reunion photo
16. NORTH BY NORTHWEST                     P. On a train playing cards
17. VERTIGO                                               Q. Seated on a bus beside Cary Grant
18. REBECCA                                           R. Posting a letter at a mail box
19. SUSPICION                                         S. At a big party sipping champagne
20. SPELLBOUND                                     T. Leaving a pet store with two white terriers

*Note of trivia: The ad in question was for Reduco Obesity Slayer.

SCROLL DOWN FOR THE ANSWERS.





















1F; 2M; 3H; 4I; 5Q; 6P; 7T; 8O; 9S; 10E; 11L; 12A; 13B; 14N; 15K; 16D; 17C; 18G; 19R; 20J

To learn more about Alfred Hitchcock, I would recommend reading “The Dark Side of Genius” by Donald Spoto. It’s the most comprehensive book on Hitchcock I’ve read to date.

If you enjoy suspense, a reminder to check out my newest psychological thriller, If You Should Read This Mother (Black Opal Books)

https://www.amazon.com/You-Should-Read-This-Mother-ebook/dp/B07214BLW5/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498410445&sr=8-1&keywords=If+You+Should+Read+This%2C+Mother

RHODES LESS TRAVELED

Vivian

My Radio Interview




 Hi Everyone:

I hope by now you've been able to check out my newly released psychological thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother.  It is available on Amazon, (on the publisher's website (www.blackopalbooks.com), as well as in book stores.

I invite you all to tune in to The Kim Pagnano Show next Saturday 7/15, when Kim will be interviewing me about my book.
The interview will be played between 7-8 AM (PT) next Saturday on KVTA  Radio 1590, and it will be posted on www.kimpaganoshow.com starting at 9:00 AM (PT).

Hoping you'll have a chance to listen and to spread the word.

If someone should ask you to suggest a good summer read, please keep If You Should Read This, Mother in mind. https://www.amazon.com/You-Should-Read-This-Mother-ebook/dp/B07214BLW5/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498410445&sr=8-1&keywords=If+You+Should+Read+This%2C+Mother



Happy reading!  Vivian

Monday, June 19, 2017

#IF YOU SHOULD READ THIS, MOTHER



It’s been quite a while since I last blogged, primarily because I’ve been focused on writing and editing other material.  To that end, I’m pleased to announce that my psychological thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother (Black Opal Books), has just been released.
                I’m often asked how I come up with the stories that drive what I write.  I guess the best answer is to say that it varies.  For example, my first novel, Groomed for Murder, was about the murder of a  Beverly Hills hairdresser.  I came up with the idea for GFM after having had an argument with my Beverly Hills hairdresser.  He was extremely good-looking and very much taken with himself, and in fact, was very likely one of the prototypes upon which Warren Beatty’s character in Shampoo was based.  He was also a player, and I suspect he had rubbed more than one person the wrong way.  I’m not sure that I won the argument that day, but I did find a way to get back at him.  I had him murdered (on paper of course).
                Groomed for Murder was a mystery with comedic overtones, unlike If You Should Read This, Mother, which is a straightforward mystery.  I came up with the idea for IYSRTM one November day when I realized that the number of people who could actually recall where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated was diminishing.  Today, it is safe to say, that only a small demographic, those in their sixties and older, can vividly remember what they were doing when they heard the astounding news. 
What about those people who were alive at the time, but who were very, very young?  Surely they could feel that something was different about that day, even if they didn’t know why.  Few cartoons on television over the weekend, if at all.  Adults, both men and women, sobbing audibly.  The look of disbelief in their parents’ eyes.
The protagonist of my story, Megan Daniels, was only three years old the day John Kennedy was assassinated, but flashes of that day begin to trigger other disturbing memories that have lain dormant within her.  At first they are merely snippets, but as they begin to appear more frequently Megan has difficulty separating what is real from what is imagined.  When she sets out to find her biological mother, she keeps hitting brick walls. No adoption papers exist, and all she has to go on is her possible birthday: November 22. In the small town of Meredith, Megan’s search takes on a dire, domino effect—one woman has already been murdered as a result of her inquiries. As she digs for the truth, Megan eventually unravels a sinister plot that began decades earlier, but in doing so she places her own life in jeopardy.
I have begun working on edits for my next book, Girl Obsessed, but hope you will take the time to read If You Should Read This, Mother and spread the word, particularly on social media. The book will be available in book stores and can be purchased as an e-book or in paper back on Amazon at:
Purchases can also be made directly at the publisher’s website: www.blackopalbooks.com
Groomed for Murder is available as an e-book only on Amazon at:
Thank you all for your support.  Hoping you’ll give me a positive review on Amazon.
Happy reading, Vivian

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

PATTY DUKE



Like many of you, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Patty Duke.  I met the woman over thirty years ago when I was working as a receptionist at the then relatively small talent agency, Creative Artists, which represented both her and her husband, John Astin.
                I knew her as Anna, her given name and one which everyone at the agency was requested to use.  If I didn’t know the actress, Patty, I did come to know the woman, Anna.  She was gracious, funny, and warm.  And she spoke in an almost gravelly voice.
                I loved her in the role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, for which she won an academy award for Best Supporting Actress.  I was also a faithful viewer of The Patty Duke Show which aired in the early sixties (I can still remember most of the lyrics to the theme song.)
                Probably my best memory of Anna/Patty is the time my sister came to Los Angeles to visit with her son, Jonathan, who was about to celebrate his fifth birthday.  I offered to throw him a little party and then realized that I didn’t have too many friends with little ones back then.  I managed to “scrape up” a few kids, not wanting his party to be a disaster. When I mentioned this to Anna, she and John immediately offered to bring their two sons, Sean, who was a year older than Jonathan, and Mackenzie, who was a year younger.  I accepted their generous offer and John brought them to the party. Both parents were down to earth and very approachable.
                Patty Duke, or as I knew her Anna Astin, was a lovely woman who left us far too soon.

                                                           The Patty Duke Show Theme Song

Meet Cathy, who's lived most everywhere,
From Zanzibar to Barclay Square.
But Patty's only seen the sights
A girl can see from Brooklyn Heights -
What a crazy pair!

But they're cousins,
Identical cousins all the way.
One pair of matching bookends,
Different as night and day.

Where Cathy adores a minuet,
The Ballet Russes, and crepe suzette,
Our Patty loves to rock and roll,
A hot dog makes her lose control -
What a wild duet!

Still, they're cousins,
Identical cousins and you'll find,
They laugh alike, they walk alike,
At times they even talk alike -

You can lose your mind,
When cousins are two of a kind.

Copyright: Lyrics © Original Writer and Publisher
LyricFind

Monday, January 18, 2016

THE HAYS CODE: PRE-CENSORED HOLLYWOOD


I posted this several years ago. Thought it was worth another go-around, especially for readers new to my blog.


Watching a movie made in the forties or fifties, one gets the idea that certain themes were taboo.  That’s because they were. But this was not always the case. Many of the movies made in the twenties and even the early thirties were actually somewhat risqué.  These movies dealt with such controversial subject matter as adultery, homosexuality, drug addiction, abortion, incest, and miscegenation (or what was at that time referred to as “the mixing of the races”).

What then caused the sudden shift to more “morally correct” films?  Numerous Hollywood headlines in the twenties, the “Fatty Arbuckle” scandal amongst others, along with the strong influence of the Catholic Church, resulted in a general feeling that the film industry needed some sort of accountability. This was to come in the form of Will Hays, a man who had served as Postmaster General under President William Harding (ironically, Harding’s presidency epitomized scandal, but that’s another story). At any rate, this is how the Motion Picture Production Code came to be.

Until 1933, the moral values of film were overseen by a Catholic Foundation known as the National League of Decency (NLD) Hays, rightfully, didn’t feel that producers were adhering to the guidelines set forth. He was determined to put “more teeth” in the MPPC.

So what sort of “moral guidelines” did the MPPC put forth?  Aside from the avoidance of the above mentioned subjects, there were now “rules” to be abided that didn’t exist prior to the code: criminals had to be punished for their crimes, authority figures had to be respected (particularly clergymen), brutal killings could not be shown in detail, there was to be no nudity and no sex outside of marriage, (if there was, the participants couldn’t enjoy it, in fact, they had to suffer as a result of it) and so on.

Directors and producers paid little attention to the code and looked for ways to get around it but that soon changed.  In 1934 an amendment to the code was adopted which created the Production Code Administration, requiring all films to get a “certificate of approval” before they could be released (any theater that didn’t adhere to this would be fined $25,000). Joseph Breen, a journalist and an influential layperson in the Roman Catholic community, was appointed by Hays to spearhead the office. Breen, who was apparently one tough cookie, presided over the PCA with a rigid hand. Under his leadership, scripts that were deemed to be “questionable” (in its view) were changed. For instance, if a woman, lying in bed, were to be kissed, the man kissing her would need to have kept one foot on the floor.

Needless to say, the Breen office was not a favorite with directors, writers, and movie moguls and the final cut of films like Animal Crackers only made it to the screen in their much censored versions. (Groucho was notorious for having slipped many a double entendre under the noses of the PCA but in the fifties, when he had his own TV show, he was once again rebuked by censors. On one of his shows, he’d asked a contestant why she had so many children and when she smiled shyly and said she loved her husband a lot, Groucho quickly replied, “I love a good cigar but I occasionally remove it from my mouth”).

Back to the code.  As mentioned, the code was strictly enforced, whether it pertained to the adaptation of a classic book such as King’s Row (a good deal of sex, incest, and sadism in that one) or even to a cartoon (Betty Boop changed her attire from that of a flapper, to one that was deemed to have been more “sedate”).  Years of symbolic sexual implications passed by (trains entering tunnels, fireworks exploding, the tide rushing in, etc.) before adherence to the code began to weaken.

By the late forties, some subject matter began to become acceptable in films, prostitution for example. By the fifties, the film industry was feeling the competition from television. In addition to this, unregulated foreign films, with their more sophisticated themes, began making their way into the country and moviegoers’ demands changed. It was director Otto Preminger who is credited with first thumbing his nose at the PCA by using the word “virgin” in his film, The Moon is Blue. Directors such as Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot) soon followed suit.

Though the code ended in 1968 (the movie industry replaced it with “age-based” ratings), it had a far reaching influence even in television. For example, take the twin beds poor Laura and Rob Petrie were forced to sleep in.  And those Doris Day sex comedies of the sixties! It always amazed me while watching A Touch of Mink, to see Doris Day, a virgin in her late twenties or early thirties, turning down, for the sake of her virtue, an opportunity of traveling the world with her love interest, wealthy business tycoon, Cary Grant.

Pre-code films are truly quite remarkable and make one wonder how much greater might some of the movies have been that were made when the censorship code was strictly enforced. On the other hand, an argument could be made that having these restrictions may have resulted in more creativity and ingenuity on the part of filmmakers.

Below, I’ve listed a dozen of, what I consider to be, the best “pre-code” movies. They often turn up on TCM or they can be ordered as part of TCM’s “Forbidden Hollywood” trilogy.


1.    EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023986/  Starring William Warren (a pre-code favorite) and Loretta Young. Loretta plays the wife of a department store employee who is harassed by the lascivious store manager, Warren.

2.    BABY FACE (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023775/   Stars Barbara Stanwyk as a girl from “the wrong side of the tracks” who uses her body and sexual know-how to climb the corporate ladder. (And climb she does). Incidentally, strong female characters were a cornerstone of pre-code films.

3.   THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024617/  This is a movie I’ve never had the opportunity to see, much as I’ve wanted to. Based on the novel SANCTUARY By William Faulkner, the film is apparently steeped in “Southern Gothic”. Starring Miriam Hopkins, it is recognized as much for its extraordinary cinematography as for its depiction of a flirtatious Southern belle who “gets what’s coming to her” when she falls in with a bad, bad gang.

4.    FREAKS (1932) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022913/  I was first introduced to this bizarre depiction of a group of circus sideshow “freaks” by my brother when I was young and I found it terribly disturbing. (Particularly the man who was little more than “a head”, lighting his own cigarette.) With the advances in medical science, Americans are rarely exposed any more to the deformities depicted here. A good, if somewhat predictable, story with amazing characters.

5.    THREE ON A MATCH (1932) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023590/  The story tells the tale of three school chums who reunite to find that their lives have taken very different paths. The seemingly most successful of the three (her name is Vivian, by the way) ends up throwing it all away in exchange for a life of debauchery and alcoholism.
What surprised me most when watching this movie was what a relatively minor role Bette Davis played. Like her co-star William Warren, Joan Blondell was another pre-code favorite.

6.    WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024772/  This film is a dismal depiction of the Depression. In order not to be a burden to their struggling, out of work parents, two teenagers, Ed and Tom, head for the road in search of work. They hop freights and camp out in God awful places with their newly acquired friend, Sally. When Sally suggests they visit her “well to do big city aunt”, they’re delighted (until they meet “auntie” and discover she makes her money by turning tricks).

7.    NIGHT NURSE (1931) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022208/  I enjoyed this one immensely. My kind of movie: psychological suspense. When a nurse trainee (Barbara Stanwyk) is hired to care for two small sick children, she suspects that something (or rather someone) sinister is behind their illnesses. She employs the aid of a petty criminal (Clark Gable) to get to the bottom of things.

8.    LILLY TURNER (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024258/  Like many pre-code movies, this one was directed by William Wellman. It tells the story of a carnival magician who deserts his wife when he finds out she's pregnant. She marries the carnival's barker, but soon finds herself attracted to a young engineer.  When Warner Bros. tried re-releasing this in 1936, they couldn’t get a PCA “seal of approval”.

9.    RED HEADED WOMAN (1932)http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023385/plotsummary  Another “woman sleeping her way to the top” story, this one starring a sultry Jean Harlow whose ultimate goal is to sleep her way into high society.

10.  TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023622/  This comedy starred Kay Francis, Miriam Hopkins, and Herbert Marshall. Since it takes a lighthearted look at pickpockets, and thievery in general, it would never have received PCA approval.

11.   POSSESSED (1931) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022276/  Factory worker, Joan Crawford, enamored of the lifestyle and the man, acquiesces to becoming the mistress of influential lawyer, Clark Gable. Great chemistry between the two, who were paired in many, many movies.

12.  DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022835/  Having seen both this version and the later one starring Spencer Tracy, I’d have to say that this was the better of the two. Fredric’s incredible transformation from kindly Dr. Jekyll to maniacal Mr. Hyde was nothing less than brilliant. In fact, he earned his first Academy Award for his performance.

 FREAKS:

THE MARX BROTHERS: CHICO, HARPO & GROUCHO:


Hope you have a great week and thanks for reading,

RHODES LESS TRAVELED,
Vivian Rhodes
@VivianWrites