The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

In the town of Shinbone, Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) have returned for the funeral of Tom Doniphon, a man who evidently meant a great deal to them. When asked by the local press, Ransom recounts a tale of his youth, which began when he arrived at Shinbone an idealistic young lawyer intent on bringing a sense of law and justice to the west, a quest intensified after he is assaulted by vicious bandit Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).  The Man Who Shot LIberty Valance Continue reading

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HitchcOctober Day 29: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Ben and Jo McKenna (James Stewart and Doris Day) are holidaying in Morocco with their son Hank (Christopher Olsen) when a ruckus on a bus causes them to meet Frenchman Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin). They spend some time with the mysterious man, as well as an English couple, the Draytons (Brenda de Banzie and Bernard Miles), but when at a market the next day, Bernard is killed and, with his dying breath, tells Ben a few fragmented details of an assassination attempt in London in the near future. When Hank is kidnapped, the McKennas must attempt to solve the case without assisting the police, or risk their son’s wellbeing.the-man-who-knew-too-much-hank-tells-a-joke Continue reading

HitchcOctober Day 23: Rear Window

L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is a renowned photographer, whose latest on location piece resulted in a broken camera and a broken leg. He has been wheelchair-bound inside his two-room apartment for six weeks, with his cast due to be removed in seven days time. He is regularly visited by his acerbic carer Stella (Thelma Ritter) and fashion model girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), who wants to marry Jeff, but he has deemed her too perfect for him, and is reluctant to settle down from his country-hopping lifestyle. With cabin fever beginning to set in, Jeff spends his days peeping on his neighbours, including a lonely woman looking for love, a beautiful and nubile ballerina, a pair of newlyweds, a composer, a married couple with a dog and a salesman with his ill wife. After piecing together a few out-of-character actions, Jeff begins to suspect that the salesman (Raymond Burr) may have murdered his wife, so he calls in his detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey) to look into it.722_11_screenshot Continue reading

Vertigo

‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) is a detective in San Fransisco who suffers from crippling vertigo, exacerbated by his most recent rooftop scuffle culminating in the death of a colleague and the escape of the perpetrator being pursued. He therefore retires, only to be called upon by an old college friend Gavin (Tom Helmore) who is concerned about his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who may or may not be occasionally under some form of supernatural possession from an ancestor who committed suicide at the same age Madeleine is now.
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Winchester ’73

The first things I have to say about this film are that it features one of the earliest credits for Tony Curtis, and that Rock Hudson is buried in the cast, and he plays an Indian. Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the film.

I like this kind of film. Now, that statement’s not much good to you without knowing what kind of film it is, but regardless of that I like it anyway. It’s the kind of film where several smaller stories are all tied together through coincidence, or an object being passed from one to another, as is the case here. There are some exceptions – I wasn’t wild about Au Hasard Balthazar or Babel – but these types of collective narratives, like Magnolia, Short Cuts, Crash and Traffic, usually appeal to me, and having a great ensemble cast never hurts either. Here, the element that ties the stories together is a rifle.

Our introduction to the eponymous weapon is through James Stewart’s Lin McAdam, a cowboy on the trail of Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally), a dangerous man with whom the two share a bitter past. When Lin rocks up in the town of Dodge City, presided over by Will Geer’s Wyatt Earp, he finds Dutch has entered into a shooting competition to win the rifle, so enters as well, mainly to stop his foe from winning the gun that won the West. After the competition, which also sees lookalikes of Davy Crockett and Colonel Sanders, so feels a bit like a western parody, the gun is passed from one person to the next, either by honest trade or dishonest force, and not always with it’s ammunition present. We follow the gun through the film until a fairly obvious and clearly signposted finale, where Lin eventually catches up to the on-the-run Dutch.

This film felt incredibly stagey and unnatural, so I rarely felt engrossed with the movie. For example, there’s an indoor scuffle early on that in which, mid-fight, someone draws the blinds to make the fight look more dramatic. Granted, this was also to try and hide the fisticuffs from those outside the window, but seeing as they were on the first storey I don’t think there was too much danger of that, and it’s clear it was done entirely to increase the dramatic tension. Also, a moment where Shelley Winters, who is great as the film’s predominant female presence, is sat tossing a coin up and down is just waiting for someone to come along and catch it mid-throw, and it just appears as if that’s the very reason shes sat there throwing it in the first place, which is just silly.

Stewart is good in the lead role, and he must have gotten on well with director Anthony Mann, as this is the first of 8 collaborations the pair shared, including The Naked Spur and The Man From Laramie, both of which also appear on the List. Some of the supporting cast are terrible though, particularly every bartender in the film, and there’s a moment where a man tries to hit on the girl whose fiance he just shot, which is bad form in my books.

If, like me, you love the sound of a bullet’s ricochet, then you’ll adore the final showdown, however I feel that there isn’t much here to hold the attention of people who don’t really like westerns. Now, I quite like them, so I thought the film was pretty good, though more could definitely have been done with the central premise, and the film peaks too early with the opening shooting competition. 

Choose film 6/10

Rope

The first of many Hitchcock films on this list – probably more than any other director, and rightly so – shows the great man at his most experimental, as he attempted to shoot this film, based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, in one continuous shot. Limited only by the maximum length of a film reel at the time (10 minutes), a fact cleverly, if unsubtly hidden by editing shots of the backs of suits or a close up on an open chest lid, he pulls it off, utilising moving walls and tracking shots to accommodate the action as it pans out in the three rooms of an upmarket apartment.
The film follows two young men – the charming yet callous Brandon and his nervous, increasingly agitated friend Philip, as they attempt to cover up the perfect murder of their classmate David, whose body is hidden in the chest they use as a centrepiece for a party held for David’s family and friends. The acting is flawless, particularly from the two leads and James Stewart as their inquisitive former house master Rupert, and Hitch earns his moniker as the master of suspense, accomplishing an ever mounting level of tension with minimal music and meticulous plotting.
Choose film 9/10