This Sunday is double live tweet night once again, featuring films for #BNoirDetour and #HitchGoesHollywood (with host @mikeshayne).

SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955)

Our first feature is the Cold War late-noir delight Shack Out on 101. Its lowbrow appeal is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that the picture was originally to be titled Shack Up on 101.

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From opening with an attempted rape scene to closing with a happily-ever-after that suddenly comes after we discover that nearly every guy in the film is in some way involved with a plan to sell nuclear secrets to the enemy, this film is an unstoppable anti-commie train of lies, deceit, violence, and lust. And because it is both spy flick and satire, drama and comedy, lusty and prudish, I love it so much that I bumped Preminger flicks to later in the month to get to it this weekend.

Our sole female character is waitress and local sexpot Kotty (Terry Moore, of Mighty Joe Young fame). She has fallen for brainy academic Professor Sam Bastion (Frank Lovejoy, best known to noir fans for his role as lead chump in The Hitch-hiker).

Brainy Sam (Lovejoy) and Sassy Kotty (Moore)
Brainy Sam (Lovejoy) and Sassy Kotty (Moore)

Her boss, George (Keenan Wynn, in a strangely throw-away role), also desires Kotty. But as he is older and sees her love for Sam, so he settles for a protective fatherly role. Most frustrated by Kotty’s love for Sam is the cook, known only as Slob (Lee Marvin).

George (Wynn) and Slob (Marvin) beef up to attract the ladies.
George (Wynn) and Slob (Marvin) beef up to attract the ladies.
George, Slob, and Kotty have a bizarre
George, Slob, and Kotty have a bizarre “best legs” competition.

Forgettable for its silly spy machinations, its central love interests, and its odd moments of humor, Shack Out on 101 is not only saved, but made downright engaging by the presence of Lee Marvin. He steals every scene he’s in from the mediocre Terry Moore, the dull Frank Lovejoy, and even Keenan Wynn in his mostly thankless role.

Lee Marvin as Slob is riveting.
Lee Marvin as Slob is riveting.

If you’re a fan of Marvin or just want to see him light up the screen with trouble, join #BNoirDetour on Sunday 8/2 at 9p ET!

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THE LADY VANISHES (1938)

Introduction by @MikeShayne:

After the release of Young and Innocent, Hitchcock visited America.  His visit was disguised as a family vacation, but he spent much of his time cavorting with the filmmaking elite — sort of testing the waters to see what type of acceptance the U.S. would offer.  He returned to London a man on a mission.  His mission was to deliver the remaining film he owed under his current contract.

The resulting film is the selection for the next edition of #HitchGoesHollywood — The Lady Vanishes (1938).

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“Travelers on a trans-European train are delayed for a night due to bad weather in an unnamed country.  The passengers cram into the small village hotel where socialite Iris Henderson meets an old governess called Miss Froy.  Shortly after the journey restarts, Miss Froy disappears.” – IMDB

Vivien Leigh performed a screen test for the female lead and Hitchcock lobbied for his “lady of the moment”, Nova Pillbeam. Margaret Lockwood was eventually cast in the role of Iris Henderson.  She definitely holds her own.  The leading male role, Gilbert, was awarded to Michael Redgrave- his film debut.  The highlight of the film is Dame May Whitty as Miss Froy.  Hitchcock was so certain that she embodied the character of Miss Froy that, during screen tests of other actresses for the part, he instructed the cameraman to not even use film.

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Hitchcock’s process of filmmaking was altered dramatically for this production.  Typically, he would find and purchase the rights to an intellectual property that piqued his interest.  Hitch would then sell the rights to the studio for a modest profit.  From there, developed the screenplay and storyboards for his finished product, which, more often than not, only vaguely resembled the original intellectual property he had purchased.

In his haste to fulfill his contractual obligations, he chose The Lady Vanishes, with only a few additions, as a completed screenplay.  His directorial flair makes this a Hitchcockian film, not the story itself.

Some familiar Hitchcock motifs in this film include:  the use of birds to signal evil, this time in the luggage cart of the train. Our beloved MacGuffin makes an appearance as the tune that is a secret code.  Hitch’s “bed” scenes are represented with Caldicott and Charters (our comic relief) having to share a double bed and a single pair of pajamas.  In the same hotel, our hero and heroine first meet with a rather risqué bed scene.  Of course, there is a train, which plays a large part in the Hitchcock universe- and provides the claustrophobic setting for most of this film.

Also of interest is the lack of musical score.  The only music we hear is at the start and finish of the film.  Hitchcock felt this would add a touch of realism to the movie.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Hitchcock cameo near the end of the film.  He’s dressed in black and puffing on a cigarette outside of Victoria Station.

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The Lady Vanishes is to some the best of Hitchcock’s English films.  In fact, Truffaut claimed this to be the best representation of the entire Hitchcock filmography.  Orson Welles was rumored to have binge watched it eleven times and this was back before binge watching was cool.  I selected it as part of the #HitchGoesHollywood series because it represents Hitch’s last truly British picture.  Hitch had recently read, and fallen in love with, a book by Daphne du Maurier and was already in talks with David Selznick.  The wheels were in motion for his arrival in Hollywood.

But, first he owed one more movie in order to become a free agent.  Please get your tickets punched and enjoy the ride with me on Sunday night at 11 pm EST.

All Aboard!

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Internet Archives: https://archive.org/details/lady_vanishes

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