June 05, 2004
Watching: Hitchcock movies

A couple of weeks ago I shared with a few friends a childhood memory of watching with horror and amazement the scene in The Ipcress File where Michael Caine is subjected to mind imprinting psychological torture that he only endures by inflicting pain on himself through making a wound in the palm of his hand with a nail. The scene was so powerful that I had remembered it for years along with only a few other scenes of similar power, without remembering anything about who was in it or what film it was from. All I remembered was the image of the tied up tortured man hurting himself - an image which was hard to comprehend for a child. As it turns out one the guys I told about it had the exact same experience with that scene for the same reasons. [UPDATE: In fact I recall going to see The Manchurian Candidate halway expecting the scene to be there]
One other such moment is the final sequence from Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur - where the antagonist is chased to the top of the Statue of Liberty, halfway falls from the torch, but is saved as the hero of the story grabs his jacket sleeve. The seam of the jacket however starts to open ontil the sleeve comes off the jacket and the antagonist falls to the ground and dies. Again it is the strong image of the bad guy hanging over the edge as his jacket begins to rip apart that I memorized. Only years later - as I read Hitchcock/Truffaut - did I realize that it was this film I remembered.

The reason for bringing this up is that I have recently revisited both scenes. As it turns out neither the Ipcress File scene nor the Saboteur scene are able to generate the emotional jolt they gave me as a child - both films seem dated - but it was fun to connect the experience with the film nonetheless. I saw the Michael Caine vehicle on TV, but the Hitchcock film I was only able to see because I just purchased a 7 disc DVD Hitchcock Collection with a good selection of Hitchcock's films: Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The trouble with Harry, The Man who Knew to Much (the '56 version), and Psycho. Considiring that it costs £129.99 on amazon.co.uk, the 400 DKK (approx £36) I paid was a very reasonable price indeed, and Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window and Psycho would have been worth it alone. The other four films are nice extras. It's great to see these movies - many of which I have only seen in old worn film museum copies - in crisp DVD quality, and it will be great to see The Trouble with Harry for the very first time. I am a huge Htichcock fan, but I have holes in my list of films I actually know.

Actually, seeing these films on strange film museum copies brought about one of my most memorable movie going experiences ever. I went to see Shadow of a Doubt some years ago (and btw. the train strangulation scene from that film is another one of those childhood moments). The copy screened was, I think, Czech - certainly some eastern european version, with subtitles in a strange looking language. The subtitles were very thorough, often taking up three and even four full lines of text obscuring much of the image. You endure things like that for the ability to see the film at all, but the real masterpiece of the Czech versioning came in a pivotal scene where Joseph Cottens' niece goes to the library and finds a New York newspaper where she learns that Cotten is really a murderer. This scene was completely lost on us that day at the film museum because just as the girl looks down and we see her terrified look and Hitchcock cuts to a view of the headline it turned out that in the Czech version the image of the newspaper itself had been replaced with one of a Czech newspaper! This would have been funny had it been German, but in Czech it was devastating in that nobody was able to understand what it was she had discovered exactly. The entire audience burst into laughter and we didn't really regain the suspense atmosphere of the film for the thrilling conclusion after that.

Posted by Claus at June 05, 2004 02:00 AM | TrackBack (0)
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