This Sunday, we’ll screen two moody films with all-star casts and fabulous directors. The first is Phone Call from a Stranger (#BNoirDetour, 9pm ET), a lesser-known film directed by Jean Negulesco; the second is one of Hitchcock’s most famous — and the last and perhaps best of the #HitchGoesHollywood series — Rebecca (11pm ET).
PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER (1954)
Gary Merrill (married to Davis at the time of filming) plays successful lawyer David Trask, who flees his formerly happy home with wife and two daughters when he realizes he just can’t forgive his wife for an affair she had but now regrets. En route from Iowa to Los Angeles, he meets three strangers on the plane (not to be confused with Strangers on a Train; wrong director and it’s not that kind of movie). Keenan Wynn (as Eddie Hoke) is a wisecracking salesman with an inexplicably beautiful wife (played by Bette Davis); Michael Rennie is a dour doctor with a dark secret; and Shelley Winters is singer/dancer “Binky Gay,” who never quite made the big time and is returning to the husband she loves (Craig Stevens) — and the overbearing showbiz mother-in-law (Evelyn Varden) who drove her away in the first place.
A storm grounds the plane overnight in a small town, and despite the differences between the four married strangers, Hoke proposes they have become the Four Musketeers. They exchange contact information and promise half-heartedly to keep in touch. But though the weather gets better, the their luck does not. The plane crashes, and of the four, only Trask survives. This begins the second half of the film, in which Trask visits the loved ones left behind by the death of his fellow “Musketeers.”
As an anthology film (a collection of stories), it’s unique for its long first act, and the cast is wonderful. Shelley Winters is, in both present-day and fantasy flashbacks, vibrant and delightful. Merrill as Trask may be a bit dull, but he’s credible as the man who brings hope into the lives of the mourners and then has to reconsider his own life. And Davis chews the scenery, but she plays a part unlike most of her proud and overbearing dynamos — a small (but pivotal) role for which she actively campaigned.
Join #BNoirDetour for this dark tale with a shiny silver lining at 9pm ET.
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Intro by @MikeShayne
The last film we enjoyed together in the #HitchGoesHollywood series, Jamaica Inn, was Hitchcock’s final film before making the leap to Hollywood. Hitchcock was now under contract to David O. Selznick, legendary Hollywood producer, and Hitch turned his attention to the Daphne du Maurier adaptation he had really wanted to do.
“A shy ladies companion is staying in Monte Carlo with her stuffy employer when she meets the wealthy Maxim de Winter. Maxim is still troubled by the death of his wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident the year before. She and Maxim fall in love, get married and return to Manderley, his large country estate in Cornwall. The second Mrs. de Winter meets the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers and discovers that Rebecca still has a strange hold on everyone at Manderley.” – IMDB
Selznick had experienced great success with Gone With the Wind. He had developed a well-earned reputation as a very “hands-on” producer. Hitchcock had grown accustomed to being able to develop his projects unimpeded. Their long term relationship prospects were not terrific. In fact, when Hitchcock submitted the original screenplay for Rebecca to the studio, Selznick’s notes on the script were longer than the submitted script. Hitchcock joked in a 1960’s interview that he had just finished Selznick’s notes on the script for Rebecca.
Amazingly, the two headstrong men found a way to make their collaboration work. Rebecca received eleven Academy Award nominations. The film won Hitch’s first and only Best Picture Oscar.
Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine are clearly the stars of the film, but the supporting cast is stronger than in, arguably, any Hitchcock selection. Judith Anderson defines creepiness in the role of Mrs. Danvers. The comic relief of Nigel Bruce and the silky voice of George Sanders only help to raise the prestige of the cast. And of course, there’s the cameo of our favorite director about two hours into the film. He is seen walking behind and leering at George Sanders while Sanders is using the phone.
Unlike our last viewing, the lackluster Jamaica Inn, this film doesn’t need me to promote it. Rebecca stands on its own as a classic of the cinema, not just of the Hitchcock filmography. You don’t want to miss this one folks. There are some things in particular to take note of though. Hitchcock masterfully uses light and shadow to make Manderley feel large and menacing to the small and meek Joan Fontaine. Notice how Mrs. Danvers pops up unexpectedly and seems to glide in lieu of walking. The shots of Manderley are mostly a miniature, an art Hitchcock had, by this time, perfected.
Sadly, this film brings to a close our #HitchGoesHollywood series. This series was conceived as a celebration of Hitchcock’s struggle from a relatively unknown British director to the undisputed Master of Suspense. There were hits and misses along the way, but I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed the journey as much as I have enjoyed my role as tour guide. “If you look out your left window, you just may catch a glimpse of The Lodger.”
Please consider joining me one last time this Sunday night at 11pm EST. We can share popcorn while we enjoy Rebecca. And, as the leaves lose their color and jack-o-lanterns begin to make front porch appearances, we’ll enjoy a good scare together.
Just like Hitch would have wanted.