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Saboteur is a thoroughly likeable thriller with charming leads. It’s like a cross between The 39 Steps and North by Northwest and there are several set pieces that wouldn’t be out of place in any of Hitchcock’s best films.

The brightly lit sunny scene at the ranch with sweet Susie and her suavely sinister grandfather played by Otto Kruger.

Robert Cummings and Otto Kruger with sweet Susie

The circus caravan sequence is beautifully written with lovely engaging characters.

Circus folk

I love scenes set in ghost towns. Perhaps they are romantic because they are a rarity in the UK. The scene in the office reminded me of a point and click adventure as they locate the tripod and the telescope.

Robert Cuimmings and Priscilla Lane in the ghost town

The finale at the Statue of Liberty is brilliant and very exciting (though as has been pointed out it really should be the hero hanging by a thread not the villain).

Norman Lloyd hanging on to the Statue of Liberty

Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane were lovely and fresh and an age appropriate couple.

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Johnnie may be played by Cary Grant but he’s actually not at all charming but unattractively weak, lazy, and manipulative. And infuriating.

Cary Grant is creepy

(And creepy.)

That ending is so bad. It’s almost as weak as Johnnie’s character. I prefer to think of the film ending just after Johnnie walks up the stairs with the glass of milk and Lina sits up in bed.

Lina has her suspicions

The following are more interesting than Johnnie and Lina: Nigel Bruce as the lovable Beaky, Auriol Lee (who was killed in a car crash on her way back home from filming this) as the crime writer, and her lesbian friend played by Nondas Metcalf who is uncredited but thanks to the Internet her life can be filled in by calling at the James A. Michener Art Museum (I love the Internet).

Transport: train, many cars (occasionally driven along a suspicious looking Californian coastline)
Animals: dogs and horses
Alma fact: screenplay co-written by
Source: Warner Brothers (USA)

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This has a promising beginning and it is thoroughly enjoyable (especially the great sequence in the restaurant) until the moment that she realises he has no intention of telling her they aren’t married. And then it falls apart with a series of completely unfunny events cumulating in the ski lodge finale when she succumbs to him and the entire point of the film is lost because they do have sex and they are still not married.

Mr and Mrs Smith shaving

More on the cat here.

And while I get that for him it is exciting to think of having a mistress instead of a wife but it is also really creepy.

The second-rate nature of the film is emphasised by too many unflattering similarities to The Awful Truth which is one of the all-time great screwball comedies.

However, despite the film’s general failure it boasts one of Carole Lombard’s most brilliant performances. She is effortlessly funny and sexy. To think this was her second last film and then gone. I believe she would have ruled TV. Her scars are really noticeable too. Had she reached the time in her life when she decided not to care about hiding them? She certainly appeared to lack vanity.

Carole Lombard lack of vanity
Carole Lombard scar

Transport: cars
Animals: cat
Source: Warner Brothers (USA)

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This used to be one of my favourite secret Hitchcock films. Secret as in less well known and appreciated. Following on from Rebecca was always going to be hard so it appears that Hitch thought he would make a thriller just the ones he made in Britain. And rather like the majority of his British thrillers, this doesn’t really hang together. The film is a weird hybrid of big Hollywood budget (as reflected in the sets) and British quirkiness but what was marginally acceptable in a low budget British film seems careless in such surroundings. Of course, there are brilliant set pieces and sequences such as the rain-soaked assassination, the coat caught in the windmill gear, Edmund Gwenn attempts at murder, and the plane crash, but the plotting and general storytelling is all over the place.

Edmund Gwenn
Plane crash

Johnny Jones and Carol Fisher are rather dull characters (though the actors are perfectly fine) and it’s not even Johnny who saves Van Meer but the charismatic Scott ffolliott played beautifully by George Sanders. I do like Herbert Marshall who was such a dependable actor whether hero or villain.

Laraine Day and Herbert Marshall

The torture scene is deeply unpleasant and cruel. While I’m aware that torture is unpleasant and cruel I don’t really need to see it in a film with such light tone. The torture scene does result in an interesting tableau as the villains (and George Sanders) watch and listen.


Naturally being Hitchcock it is very funny though I take issue with the commentators on the documentary on this particular DVD release (Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock) who seem to think it had something to do with Robert Benchley who is reasonably amusing in an entirely Robert Benchley way but I rather think that the Charles Bennett who wrote The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage and Young and Innocent, may have been a tiny bit more important on the humour front.

Transport: ship, plane
Animals: cobwebbed sparrow
Source: Warner Brothers (USA)

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Another film I have seen many, many times. I wonder if it may even be the first Hitchcock film I ever saw. Therefore it is hard to see it afresh. The one main thing that struck me after watching all of Hitchcock’s British films is the sheer glossiness of it and the money pouring off the screen. Ironically though the very first shot in it is a model! The model itself is of a very Hollywood idea of a large house on a country estate. I know it is often described as a Gothic romance but I think the house was probably a bit more subdued in Daphne du Maurier’s head.

I’m not much of a fan of Laurence Oliver though I can’t put my finger on just why but he is perfect as Maxim. He was only ten years older than Fontaine but both come across as older and younger than their actual ages. He perfectly portrays Maxim’s inability to communicate and his patronising manner which leads him to make poor decisions but when he tells his new wife the truth his vulnerability shows through. I can’t actually imagine spending the rest of my life with a man with such communication issues.

It is really irritating that the lead/narrator doesn’t have a name. It makes writing about her really hard. Joan Fontaine is very good indeed as the girl. I think it is a jolly hard role for any Hollywood actress to play. They are, after all, by definition glamorous. One moment that I can really relate to is when she panics after breaking the ornament. I’ve done that.

Plain Fontaine

The word cad was invented for George Sanders’ performance.

George Sanders

The real star of the film is Judith Anderson. Despite the multiple adaptations of Rebecca, no actor has ever played Mrs Danvers with such malevolence. You can literally feel the effect she has on the second Mrs de Winter, she makes my skin crawl nearly 80 years later.

Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers

Florence Bates is fabulous as Mrs van Hopper who despite her awful personality isn’t actually wrong about the relationship between the two de Winters to be.


There is a richness to filmmaking that is absent from your average film of 1940. Was there ever somebody on screen as vulgar as she is as sits in bed plucking her eyebrows or stubbing out her cigarette in a pot of cold cream? How many scenes were as perfectly choreographed as the intimidation of the new Mrs de Winter by underwear?

As a total aside, I have always been bothered by how quickly they drive to and from Cornwall to London. It takes at least 4 and a half hours now.

It’s not easy to put Rebecca into context. It wasn’t just an ordinary film by any standards. It was a big budget prestige special film - not quite as special as Gone With the Wind but still a major film. Rebecca was (and is) an enormously successful novel and David O. Selznick wanted to make it as faithfully as possible (with that caveat) whereas Hitchcock wanted to do with it what he had done with any other adaptation of his which is to take it as a jumping off point. And to be honest I’m glad that Selznick had his way.

Transport: cars
Animals: spaniel
Source: Criterion Collection (USA)

Thanks to 1000 Frames of Hitchcock.