The Best Hitchcock Films Hitchcock Never Made Blogathon. Now, that's a mouthful. Say it fast three times in a row. Ha! This blogathon was the clever idea of movie belle-dames, Dorian of TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED and Becky of CLASSIC BECKY BRAIN FOOD, they are doing the hosting duties which began on the 7th and will run through Friday the13th.
We're supposed to talk about films which had some sort of Hitchcock flare and Hitchcock might, perhaps, have made if...
Figuring out a code messages, typical honeymoon activities for Joan and Fred.
ABOVE SUSPICION is a 1943 film directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford. It is based on the book by famed suspense writer, Helen MacInnes. Though the book is superior, I have still enjoyed the film over the years primarily because of its terrific cast.
The film also stars Basil Rathbone as an evil Nazi and Conrad Veidt as quite the opposite which was a nice change of pace for him. Oh, spoilers, spoilers, you'd have figured it out really quickly anyway. Especially since Basil Rathbone's character, Sig von Aschenhausen comes equipped with a steely-eyed, dragon-mama - sort of like Claude Rains's mother in NOTORIOUS, only perhaps, not as awful.
(A man who shows up at a rousing Liszt concert with his mother can't help but be up to no good.)
It's 1939, the setting (at least for the first few minutes of the film) is Oxford. Frances (Joan Crawford) and Richard (Fred MacMurray) Myles are a newlywed couple off on their honeymoon. He's a professor at Oxford even though he's an American - probably a 'visiting' professorship. This is before war was delcared so Germany was still not out of travel bounds.
The formula will help the Brits deal with a new magnetic bomb the Nazis have developed. Hardly the sort of thing you'd send amateurs into, but that's the story.
Richard and Frances are supposedly above suspicion because of their innocent countenance + their trip really is a honeymoon + who would suspect two rather bland Americans. Well, Fred MacMurray certainly is bland enough, but maybe not Joan Crawford. She can't help looking a bit too sophisticated for him and for the the film (her face really does grab the screen), but I guess I'm being picayune. Though I wish Fred would learn to wipe the smirk off his face. That's really my only objection to his playing a Nazi fighting hero. You know who would have been great in this part? Robert Donat.
Anyway, the couple is given a fixed set of passwords to use, since it appears that everyone in Germany is understandably on their guard, afraid to speak for fear of being over-heard by the Gestapo which has tentacles everywhere. Frances is instructed to wear a hat with a red rose as a sort of recognition signal and the song, 'My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose' plays part in the hijinks. Luckily for all, Frances knows how to play the piano and both she and Richard can sing in a pinch. I especially like Richard's rendition of 'Where is Sylvia?'
Once in Germany - Salzburg - Richard and Frances play the part of tourists (though it's not a part, they really are tourists, just tourists with an agenda) and make their contacts with members of the resistance using their appropriate code-words and signals. The only problem is that the Nazis are apparently on to them almost from the very beginning. (This is not explained.)
At a Liszt concert one evening, they meet up with old Sig von Aschenhausen (Basil Rathbone looking dashing in a tux) and his mom - both Sig and Richard had been Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. During the concert, the kommandant of a concentration camp (in the audience) is shot dead during a particularly loud explosion of cymbals and drums.
Sig manages to get Richard and Frances excused (since they're Americans and who could possibly suspect them?) from interrogation. Richard also asks for Sig to excuse his nervous friend, Thornley, a fellow Oxford...uh, fellow. Richard claims that Thornley (Bruce Lester) is a long time friend of his. In truth, they'd only just met that afternoon at the hotel and somehow Richard suspects that Thornley is responsible for the dead Nazi. HOW he suspects this is not made clear. (At least it's not shown in the version of the film I watched.)
That's the mom in the fur.
At any rate, the dragon-mom invites Frances, Richard and Thornley to dinner at her Schloss. The three can hardly refuse after Sig has cleared the way for them to leave the concert hall. After dinner, Sig reconstructs the killing at the concert with appropriate music played by Frances (she can play Liszt), putting everyone on edge.
Poor stiff Thornley on the far left - sweating.
Later back at the hotel, after deciphering a couple of secret messages, Frances and Richard must then make a connection with a certain Doctor Mespelbrunn who will more than likely have the info they seek. (Remember the macguffin?) Once they have it, they'll be home free to leave Germany and continue on their honeymoon.
BUT, not so fast.
When they arrive at their destination, a hunting lodge, who should turn up but old Sig pretending he is the mysterious Doctor Mespelbrunn (a code name, I guess) and what's more, he knows that 'My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose' is the secret musical password. (He comes into the room whistling it in a very jaunty way.)
But again, not so fast. He gives himself away to Richard and Frances by not revealing a particular habit of the real Dr. Mespelbrunn. (The couple had been told this in secret by another contact.)
I won't reveal much more except to say that Conrad Veidt (whom I adore as much as I do Basil Rathbone) turns up out of the blue just in time to save the day at one point. He'd met the couple early in the film and behaved suspiciously enough to fool us into believing he was something other than he appeared to be. What he was was a particularly good spy.
At one point in the film, Richard and Frances are called upon to pretend to be simple-minded country peasants in typical lederhosen type costumes - Joan gets to wear a babushka and looks very fetching.
Happy peasants in Nazi Germany.
Before long, Frances (disguised this time, as an old woman) is picked up on the street by Sig and his Nazis cohorts and taken to a secluded Schloss on a mountain for questioning. It's then up to the intrepid heroes, joined by Thornley - who also shows up out of the blue - to save Frances and get away with the bomb formula and the names. (Oh, they got the info from the real Professor Mespelbrunn - Reginald Owen - whom they found tied up in an upstairs room at the lodge.)
Production values on the film are not all that great, it's mostly back-lot MGM/faux Germany and lots of rear-projection, something Hitchcock also used in his early films. But I usually make allowances for that if the story and cast are good enough. And I admit that though the plot has holes in it big enough to drive a whole Panzer division through, it still has many exciting moments. The cast (except for MacMurray's smirk) is terrific and I am always up for a film in which Nazis are outwitted. Basil Rathbone at his fiendish best is always a treat. Plus I love Conrad Veidt and Reginald Owen too.
My favorite scene in the movie? The one in a nightclub where Conrad Veidt's character (Hassert Seidel) dances a lively tango with a plump middle-aged lady. They are both light on their feet and quite wonderful.
(This was Conrad Veidt's last film. He died suddenly of a heart attact in 1943 at the age of 50. But he is remembered today with a great deal of affection by many movie mavens such as myself.)
To my mind, the most Hitchcockian character in the film is Conrad Veidt's. It's all in the hints of hidden depths which Veidt creates with little more than facial expression and an angled fedora. In a way he is a caricature and in a way he most definitely is not. The dance sequence I mentioned has lots of Hitchcockian humor in it, though there is not a hint of making fun of the overweight woman - don't know that Hitchcock would have put up with an overweight woman without making her a joke. But I could be wrong. I am not a Hitchcock scholar.
If Hitch had made this film, I hope he would have tightened the plot, made the camera-work a bit more interesting AND the humor a bit less juvenile. Example of ABOVE SUSPICION humor: The last line, once the happy couple is safely across the border in Italy: "C'mon, let's get some spaghetti." Not the sort of thing Hitchcock would have condoned. I don't think. This kind of flippancy only works if the actor saying it is playing against type, i.e. if Cary Grant said it, THEN it would work.
But except for two or three brief scenes, the one thing missing from ABOVE SUSPICION, the main thing I think Hitchcock would have brought to the table, is intensity. This film is more escapade than real suspense, but to tell you the truth, despite my quibbles, I love it anyway.