Alfred Hitchcock

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PODCAST

The Classic Film Club podcast Episode 3 

Welcome to this meeting of The Classic Film Club, the podcast dedicated to taking a fresh look at movie classics and asking how well they’ve stood the test of time.  We’re also here to shine a light on lesser-known gems and guilty pleasures from the past century of cinema. I’m your host, Richard Kuipers, I’m a film critic for the international trade paper Variety, a documentary producer and film festival programmer and I’ve been a film fanatic since before I could read or write. Later on I’ll be talking about an obscure 1970s film that’s very timely in terms of the US election but first I want to take us into the world of suspense with the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock.

 

Hitchcock was more than just the Master of Suspense. He was also a master showman and publicist whose name has become an adjective to describe films that employ techniques he established and perfected. Hitchcockian is how critics and buffs describe certain types of thrillers and suspense films, in much the same way as Orwellian describes science-fiction films set in dystopian futures, and Fellini-esque is shorthand for films with flamboyant visuals that invoke the atmosphere of a circus or carnival. Born in 1899, Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock directed 54 feature films, starting with THE PLEASURE GARDEN in 1925 and ending with FAMILY PLOT in 1976. In the 1950s and 60s he presented over 350 episodes of the TV series ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, which helped launch the careers of many fine filmmakers – more about that later. Hitchcock received five Oscar nominations for Best Director without winning one but he did receive the Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968. I will now recite his acceptance speech in its entirety: “Thank you very much indeed.” Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most written about and analysed filmmakers of all time. He worked almost exclusively in the studio system. His films had big stars and were commercially-minded productions for mainstream audiences. Such was his mastery of technique he was also revered and celebrated by critics and scholars who saw him as not merely a filmmaker but a great artist with a distinctly personal and readily identifiable style.

 

Unsurprisingly it was French critics from the Cahiers du Cinema magazine in the ‘50s and ‘60s that first championed Hitchcock. One of these was Francois Truffaut, who was so severe on some respected French filmmakers such as Jean Renoir and Robert Bresson that he became known as the “Gravedigger of French Cinema.” But Truffaut – who became a filmmaker and created cinema classics such as THE 400 BLOWS and DAY FOR NIGHT – admired Hitchcock and interviewed him for 50 hours on August 13 1962 – Hitchcock’s 63rd birthday. The tapes took four years to translate and organise, eventually being published in 1967 as “HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT”. It remains one of the most fascinating and important movie books of them all – do track down a copy if you can, it’s fantastic reading.

 

The renowned British critic and author John Russell Taylor said in 1978 that Hitchcock was “the most universally recognizable person in the world.” Taylor  also called him “a straightforward middle-class Englishman who just happened to be an artistic genius.” The son of an East End greengrocer, Hitchcock entered the British film industry in 1919, working at Islington Studios as a designer of intertitles or title cards – those used in silent films to convey dialogue and plot information. Hitchcock’s Islington Studios connection is interesting and important in British film history. Islington was also known as Gainsborough Studios and was closely associated with Gainsborough Pictures, producers of fine British movies including THE WICKED LADY, FANNY BY GASLIGHT and Alfred Hitchcock titles of the 20s and 30s such as THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, SECRET AGENT and SABOTAGE. Islington-Gainsborough Studios was demolished to make way for apartments in 2004. The most striking feature of todays Gainsborough Studios Apartments complex is a spectacular 5-storey high steel sculpture of Alfred Hitchcock’s unmistakable face.

 

But long before Hitchcock began working in the movies he had an experience that would shape his life and have a huge impact on his work. When he was five and before he began his strict Catholic Jesuit education with its strong teachings on guilt and fear, young Alfred Hitchcock was given a note by his father and told to deliver it to the local police station. After handing over the note the boy was taken to a cell and locked in for five minutes. “That’s what we do with naughty boys” said a policeman after releasing the youngster. The incident instilled a lifelong fear of police in Hitchcock to the point where he wouldn’t even drive a car, so great was his anxiety about the possibility of getting a ticket. As late as 1973 Hitchcock went on the record, admitting he was “scared stiff of anything to do with the law.” Hitchcock’s fear of police is just one small component in an array of obsessions, fetishes and perversions that shaped how he made films and how he treated his stars, especially blonde females such as Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Tippi Hedren. As his career progressed Hitchcock’s treatment of female characters drew much attention and remains a principal lens through which we see his films, starting with his first big success THE LODGER in 1926, and especially those from the 1950s onwards. As British broadcaster and journalist Bidisha wrote in the Guardian in 2010 "There's the vamp, the tramp, the snitch, the witch, the slink, the double-crosser and, best of all, the demon mommy. Don't worry, they all get punished in the end.”

 

The most important woman in Hitchcock’s life was undoubtedly his wife, Alma Reville. Reville began working at Twickenham Film Studios as a tea girl in 1916, at the age of 16, before becoming an editor at Paramount’s Famous Player’s Lasky production company. She wrote about editing: “The art of cutting is Art indeed, with a capital A, and is of far greater importance than is generally acknowledged.” Reville  first worked with Hitchcock on the 1923 production WOMAN TO WOMAN – she as editor, he as co-writer and art director. They married three years later and remained together until his death in 1980. At a time when few women occupied senior roles in film production outside of wardrobe, hair and set dressing, Alma moved from editing to screenwriting. Her name appears on the screenplays of many Hitchcock films including MURDER, JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK and RICH AND STRANGE in the 30s, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, SUSPICION and THE PARADINE CASE in the 40s and STAGE FRIGHT from 1950, starring the great Marlene Dietrich.

 

Hitchcock’s career falls into several very broadly categorised stages, beginning with the British films that made him famous in the 30s and opened the door to Hollywood. He and Alma moved to the US in 1939 after Hitchcock signed a 7-year contract with legendary producer David O. Selznick. Their first collaboration was the smash hit REBECCA in 1940 – the only Hitchcock film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Wartime brought SABOTEUR, LIFEBOAT, SUSPICION and SHADOW OF A DOUBT. After the Selznick contract expired Hitchcock flirted briefly with independent production, including the flop UNDER CAPRICORN – set but not filmed in Australia – before recovering with a string of hits from the early 1950s to the mid-60s – This was Hitchcock’s Golden Age -  REAR WINDOW, DIAL M FOR MURDER, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and VERTIGO the 1958 film that many critics and viewers didn’t quite “get” at the time. In 2012 VERTIGO ended CITIZEN KANE’S 50-year run as “The Greatest Film of All Time” in the British Film Institute’s highly respected Sight and Sound critics’ poll. With the studio system in its dying days and younger audiences wanting more realistic treatment of strong adult subject matter Hitchcock took one of the biggest gambles of his life with PSYCHO in 1960. It paid off brilliantly and led to THE BIRDS – another Daphne du Maurier adaptation - and MARNIE – two of his most psychologically unsettling films.

 

Hitchcock’s 1960s ended on a tepid note, with the inconsequential thrillers TOPAZ and TORN CURTAIN, before he bounced back into form with FRENZY in 1972 and his final feature the delightful caper FAMILY PLOT in 1976.

 

In what I suspect could be just the first of several Hitchcock-themed instalments of The Classic Film Club - his filmography is so vast and his influence is so enormous -  I’m going to take a look at three of the master’s films – one from the ‘30s, one from the ‘50s and one from the ‘70s. Two of them count as lesser-known Hitchcock’s and one comes from that dream run when he could do no wrong.

 

So let’s go back to the 1930s now, with young Alfred Hitchcock establishing his reputation as a maker of mystery-thrillers with fast-paced plots, clever twists and smart doses of humour along the way. He was prolific, too, turning out 25 features between 1923 and 1939. Although THE LODGER was a hit in 1927 Hitchcock had mixed fortunes until 1934, when he began a string of great successes starting with THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH followed by THE 39 STEPS in 1935, SECRET AGENT and  SABOTAGE in 1936, THE LADY VANISHES in 1938 and JAMAICA INN in 1939 – Hitchcock actually hated JAMAICA INN - his adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel - but it was still a big box-office winner.

 

In the middle of this great run, in 1937, Hitchcock made one of his most charming and breezy thrillers – YOUNG AND INNOCENT, an adaptation of Josephine Tay’s novel A Shilling for Candles. The title sums up his formula at the time – young people running desperately from the law and/or shady types to prove their innocence after being accused of ghastly crimes on the basis of overwhelming circumstantial evidence. The young and innocent man in question here is Robert Tisdall (Deryck De Marney), a writer who finds a body on the beach. The body is that of famous actress Christine Clay. We know from the start Tisdall is innocent. In the opening scene Clay is locked in a bitter argument with ex-husband Guy (Robert Curzon), a violent man with nervous twitching eyes. But that doesn’t stop Tisdall being arrested on the strength of circumstantial evidence including the fact that he knew the deceased. Just listen to the way cops ask Tisdall how “well” he “knew” Christine Clay… this was the 1930s and intonation said it all. Enter Erica (Nova Pilbeam), daughter of local Chief Constable, Colonel Burgoyne (Percy Marmont). When Tisdall makes a run for it during a court appearance Erica inadvertently becomes involved. Naturally she wants to turn the fugitive in but just as naturally she becomes convinced of his innocence and sets out to help him prove it. What’s so charming about YOUNG AND INNOCENT is its light tone. Britain still had the death penalty at this time but Tisdall treats his life-and-death situation like a spot of bother that jolly well needs to be sorted out. There’s lovely chemistry between Derryck de Marney and Nova Pilbeam as the couple on the run. It’s one of De Marney’s very few lead roles, along with UNCLE SILAS in 1947. Pilbeam also played the lead in Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and was David O Selznick’s choice for the lead in REBECCA and saw her as a potential international star, but it never happened. Here, Pilbeam is delightful as the plucky young lady who’s learnt a thing or two from watching her policeman father at work, and uses her nous to help Tisdall evade the law and catch the real killer. It’s a very funny film too, with police seen as bumbling fools and Tisdall’s lawyer portrayed as a money-hungry incompetent. But when tension and suspense are called for the film really delivers. There are some splendid narrow escapes and near misses, including one at a railway crossing. It’s done with miniatures but they’re pretty impressive for the times. It’s also fascinating to see rural England in 1937, with horses and carts just as common as the rickety car Erica drives and has to start by hand-cranking the engine. It’s still great viewing today, but there’s one aspect that’s jarring – a band playing at a dance are all wearing blackface, which would not happen in a contemporary film unless there was a very specific and important reason. But in 1937 this was not an uncommon sight and so reflects the times and I believe should be understood in that light. You can find YOUNG AND INNOCENT online and if you haven’t seen any or much of Hitchcock’s pre-War work I hope it’ll lead to discovering more from this stage of his brilliant career. 4 out of 5 stars from me.

 

Much better known, and the second film I’d like to look at bit more closely at, is the last of three films Hitchcock made with Grace Kelly, a classic Hitchcock blonde and one of the most beautiful and elegant women ever to appear on screen. Kelly only made 11 feature films, winning an Oscar for Best Actress in THE COUNTRY GIRL in 1954 and retiring in 1956, aged 26 to become Princess Grace of Monaco. In 1953 she starred in Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER, filmed in 3-D, and in the same year played opposite James Stewart in REAR WINDOW. In 1954 Hitchcock and Kelly reunited on the French Riviera for TO CATCH A THIEF, an adaptation of the 1952 novel by David Dodge. TO CATCH A THIEF was filmed in glorious Technicolor and VistaVision – the fine grain, high-definition 35mm format used by Paramount Pictures from 1954 to 1961 and later used for special effects photography on a decent little sci-fi film called STAR WARS. It’s not one of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful films but as a sleek mystery-romance-thriller there’s a lot to like, starting with the locations and the cast. Kelly doesn’t appear until the 32nd minute, which must be some sort of record for the top-billed actor in a big Hollywood film. Until then we just have to make do with Cary Grant at his smooth and sophisticated best as American expat John Robie. Before the war Robie was a clever jewel thief they called The Cat. After helping the French resistance Robie retired from the cat burglary business and now lives in a magnificent house in the hills. I can’t see how he makes a living but this is Cary Grant in an escapist Hollywood film of the 1950s so it’s probably a bit too much to ask! No matter, what matters is that some rascal on the Riviera has started robbing the rich of their rocks and suspicion falls on Robie. His cunning plan is to catch the new Cat and clear his name. But has Robie really retired, and does he intend to frame a patsy? When the film was released in 1955 audiences would have loved the opening sections, with Lyn Murray’s lush score playing over aerial footage showing off the Cote d’Azur in all its beauty and scenes of a cat burglar scurrying over rooftops in the dead of night. Next up, Cary Grant appears in his classic stripy skivvy and neckerchief outfit as John Robie, who’s attempting to prove his innocence to the cops and get info from old resistance comrades like restaurateur Bertani (Charles Vanel), his head waiter Foussard (Jean Martinelli), and Foussard’s fetching daughter Danielle (Brigitte Auber), who was taught English by Robin and clearly has a crush on him. Apart from the gorgeous locations and entertaining plot what’s remarkable about these establishing scenes – and the whole movie in fact – is the amount of French language spoken. None of it subtitled and little of it translated by the characters, but we know what’s going on. One thing that dates so many older movies – especially Hollywood films – is watching characters from non-English speaking countries talking to each other in English with applicable accents. Think of just about every Hollywood war movie made before the 1980s for example. That doesn’t happen here and it really helps when watching this in 2020 with the expectations we have for authenticity and credibility. It’s worth waiting those 32 minutes for Grace Kelly to appear – in all her immaculate, impossible beauty. She plays Frances Stevens, daughter of Jessie Stevens (Jesse Royce Landis), a widowed American millionairess taking a continental vacation. The Stevens’ - and their vast collection of jewellery are staying at the Carlton Hotel – the most famous place in town and where movie royalty stay during the Cannes film festival. I spent a lot of time at the Carlton in the 90s when I covered the festival for an Australian TV show I produced. The lobby has an ambience you can hardly believe: stars everywhere, the world’s greatest filmmakers … everywhere. It really feels like it’s the centre of the universe when the festival is in full swing and it must have seemed like that when Grace Kelly – a movie star and soon to be real royalty - arrived for filming at the Carlton in May 1954. TO CATCH A THIEF is high gloss, highly enjoyable entertainment with Robie enlisting British insurance man H.H. Hughson (John Williams) in his plan to meet the Stevens women and use their diamonds to trap The Cat – or is he going to steal them himself? The sparring between Grant and Kelly is spicy and nicely played by the leads, with Grant debonair and slightly dangerous, and Kelly playing Catherine as an innocent before revealing a rather more worldly side to her character. In fact she turns out to be quite a game and adventurous type who wants to help Robie pull of his daring plan. Naturally they fall out and bicker for a while, but once Robie escorts her to her suite and they watch fireworks together from her window we’re in no doubt they’ve taken their relationship “to the next level” as they say. What would the movies do with the metaphor of fireworks?

 

There is a significant 25-year age gap between Grant and Kelly. Such gaps are still common in mainstream Hollywood movies and elsewhere. The chemistry between Grant and Kelly helps smooth things over and not make it cringeworthy. Apart from Cary and Grace there’s a great supporting cast, especially Williams as the upper-class insurance agent and Jesse Royce Landis as Mrs Stevens. She starts out all posh but soon shows her true colors as an old-fashioned Oklahoma woman who’s deceased, moneybags hubby was a crook. I also like it when she talks about the supposed glamour and excitement of casinos and the chances of winning: “maybe I should just mail them the money” she says.

 

TO CATCH A THIEF won the Oscar for Best Colour Cinematography for Robert Burks, who also shot other Hitchcock films including THE BIRDS and MARNIE. It also features stunning costumes by 8-time Oscar winner Edith Head. Some of the rear projection looks wobbly by today’s standards and it doesn’t have the pulse-pounding suspense of Hitchcock at his best but 65 years later it’s still a joy to watch. Perhaps the best way to sum it up is with this quote from Washington Post critic Richard Coe. When the film was first released Coe called it “one of those de luxe pictures in which everyone lives in glorious workless luxury on the French Rivera, looks wonderful, speaks amusingly and is unconcerned with transit strikes or hurricanes. I loved every minute of it.” I did too, four and a half out of 5.

 

Before I take a look at one of Hitch’s final films it’s worth a detour to mention his work in television. From 1955 to 1965 Hitchcock hosted and sometimes directed episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. At a time when small screen production was considered the poor cousin of feature films (how things have changed!!) Hitchcock embraced the medium and used it to increase his fame and celebrity. Is Alfred Hitchcock the most recognizable name of any film director, ever? Scorsese? Kubrick? Tarantino? Nolan? Forty years after his death Hitchcock must still be at the top of that list or very close to it. But back to his TV work, just briefly, because it didn’t just provide a great stage for Hitchcock. It also provided a place for young up-and-coming filmmakers and unfairly forgotten directors to show their wares, just as shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE would in the 60s: here’s just a small selection of directors that worked on Alfred Hitchcock presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN): Robert Altman (NASHVILLE, MASH, THE PLAYER) Robert Florey (THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, MURDER IN THE RUE MORGUE) John Brahm (THE LODGER, HANGOVER SQUARE), Ida Lupino (THE HITCHHIKER) Sydney Pollack (OUT OF AFRICA, TOOTSIE), and William Friedkin (THE EXORCIST).

 

When asked to talk about the ingredients in his films Hitchcock put it simply “Murder, mayhem, violence, sex: beautifully expressed, lovely costumes, perfect cutting … and a joke or two.” All of which brings us to the third and final film in this Classic Film Club meeting dedicated to the master of suspense. After the disappointments of TOPAZ and TORN CURTAIN – both espionage thrillers - Hitchcock returned to England in 1972 with, indeed, murder, mayhem, sex, violence and a joke or two on his mind. The result was FRENZY, an adaptation of Arthur LaBerns 1966 novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. Gone are spies and skullduggery. FRENZY returns to classic Hitchcock territory of an innocent man who’s accused of murder and can only avoid jail by finding the killer  himself. Not just any culprit but an especially sadistic serial rapist and murderer. This is Hitchcock’s most gritty and grimy thriller by some margin. The innocent man is Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), a hot-headed former RAF officer with a chip on his shoulder and a broken marriage. He’s just been sacked from his job as barman in a pub near Covent Garden Market, where much of the film unfolds. It’s a great noisy, vibrant, busy location and significant for Hitchcock, whose father was a Covent Garden merchant. Everything points toward Blaney being The Necktie Killer, a modern-day Jack the Ripper whose latest victim is seen floating down the Thames in the opening sequence.

 

Hitchcock never worried about revealing the killer’s identity early in proceedings – that’s not the mystery or source of suspense. The source of anxiety is wondering if  our man can track down the psycho before it’s too late. Aside from the shower scene from PSYCHO, FRENZY features the most brutal scenes Hitchcock ever directed. Not just the murders, but the murderer attempting to cover his tracks. It’s startling stuff and it’s Hitchcock making a statement. He may have been 72 years old, sick and infirm – he directed some of FRENZY from a wheelchair – but he’s fully in touch with modern audiences and is giving them what they want. He’s also – inevitably – having fun in the midst of all these grisly and ghastly crimes. There’s a wonderful running gag involving Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowan), the cop who arrested Blaney before he escaped, and Oxford’s wife, a delightfully dotty type played by Vivien Merchant. Mrs Oxford has decided to expand her culinary repertoire with some of the most outlandish and unappetizing “Continental Cuisine” you’ve ever seen. Pigs trotters, anyone? It’s very, very funny. Also in the cast is Anna Massey as Babs, Blaney’s only friend; Clive Swift as old RAF buddy, Tony; Billie Whitelaw as Tony’s hot-tempered wife Hetty; Barry Foster – of 70s TV fame as Dutch detective Van Der Valk for those who remember – as fruit and vege merchant Bob Rusk, and Jean Marsh – creator and star of famous TV series Upstairs Downstairs – as Monica, an oddball working at a dating agency – yes, a dating agency where people enrolled to find love and romance in the days before swiping left and swiping right became the norm. Jon Finch is terrific in the lead role. He’s one of my favourite British actors of the era. Finch also appeared in LADY CAROLINE LAMB, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS - a juicy Hammer horror - and he’d just played Macbeth in Roman Polanski’s 1971 film before starring for Hitchcock. Not bad – straight from Polanski’s set to Hitchcock’s. Written by Anthony Shaffer – also the writer of British classics SLEUTH and THE WICKER MAN - FRENZY was big hit both critically and commercially and stands up very well today… but there is one glaring moment, a bit like that scene I mentioned before from YOUNG AND INNOCENT that’s so dramatically “of its time” and really sticks out in 2020. Here, a couple of middle-class, middle-aged men are discussing the Necktie Killer. One makes a comment about the nature of his crime - rape and murder – that would outrage audiences today, and rightly so, but in 1972 it’s just part of the conversation. Listen for it – they’re in a pub at the time, it’s just a very brief scene with characters we never see again but it’s there and you can hardly believe what’s said.

 

FRENZY was Hitchcock’s penultimate film.  He returned to Hollywood to make FAMILY PLOT in 1976, a film I like a lot, especially with a cast including Barbara Harris, Bruce Dern, William Devane and Karen Black – fresh from her role as chief stewardess Nancy Prior in AIRPORT ’75. Sir Alfred Hitchcock passed away in on April 29, 1980. His films will shorten the breath and quicken the pulse of audiences forever more.

 

Now to our hidden gems segment. You might be joining this meeting of The Classic Film Club before, during or after the US Election on November 3. After watching the Trump-Biden debate – can we even call it that? – and with so many conspiracy theories in the air these days I was reminded of WINTER KILLS, a great black comedy conspiracy thriller from 1979. Directed by William Richert and starring Jeff Bridges, WINTER KILLS flopped on first release and was quickly withdrawn from circulation in the US. It only received a tiny release in Australia in 1981. I was at school then and remember taking the red rattler train over the Harbour Bridge to see it at the only place where it was screening - the great Walker St cinema in North Sydney. WINTER KILLS is based on the 1974 novel by Richard Condon – he also wrote THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and PRIZZI’s HONOUR. The central character is Nick Kegan, played by a young Jeff Bridges. Nineteen years ago, Nick’s brother, United States President Timothy Kegan, was assassinated during a motorcade. An investigation declared President Kegan was killed by lone gunman Willie Arnold. Before Arnold could stand trial he was killed by nightclub owner Joe Diamond. Does this sound familiar? YES, it’s the JFK assassination with names and places changed, but all the key ingredients are in place, including family patriarch Pa Kegan, one of the USA’s richest, most powerful and most corrupt men – just like Kennedy Patriarch Joseph Kennedy, or Bootlegger Joe as they called him. Pa Keegan is brilliantly played by John Huston, director of American classics including THE MALTESE FALCON. Huston said acting was much easier than directing and in a proper world he would have at least been Oscar-nominated for this performance.

 

The fabulously complicated plot kicks off with Nick receiving information about the assassin’s rifle being hidden in a drainpipe in a Pennsylvania office block. From there it snowballs into a wild adventure with Nick following leads involving organized crime figures, Cuban connections, sinister surveillance types, Hollywood movie stars, and a crazed millionaire who uses army tanks and rockets for recreational purposes. The further Nick investigates the muddier the waters become and the more people around him start dying. It’s a dizzying, dazzling film that for all its flights of fancy and jet-black humour rings true at its core. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe this is exactly how political power is attained and maintained. As one character says “they will pile falsehood upon falsehood until you can’t tell a lie from the truth and you won’t even want to. That’s how the powerful keep their power” …. Does this remind you of any well-known political leader and the tactics he has employed?  WINTER KILLS was filmed by legendary cameraman Vilmos Zsigmond (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE DEER HUNTER) and has an amazing cast including Anthony Perkins, Sterling Hayden, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Boone, Eli Wallach, Japanese legend Toshiro Mifune, and Dorothy Malone, who won an Oscar in Douglas Sirk’s 1956 masterpiece WRITTEN ON THE WIND. But perhaps the most fascinating cast member is Australian Belinda Bauer, who plays Nick’s elusive and mysterious girlfriend Yvette (Everyone here is mysterious so lets not single her out too much!). Belinda Bauer was born Belinda Taubman – her family founded Taubman’s Paints. She moved to the US and became a successful New York model in the ‘70s. This was her film debut and the following year she starred with Jeff Bridges, again, in THE AMERICAN SUCCESS COMPANY, also directed by William Richert. Belinda also appeared in FLASHDANCE and ROBOCOP 2 before retiring from acting and becoming a psychologist. WINTER KILLS also has an amazing production history. The original producers were drug dealers Robert Sterling and Leonard Goldberg. They ran out of cash, forcing the production to declare bankruptcy. Goldberg was shot dead before the film was finished and Sterling ended up being sentenced to 40 years in prison. Yet somehow the film WAS finished, largely because cast and crew worked for little or nothing at various times. Just as well, because this is one of the great American conspiracy films – it’s more timely, relevant and funny now than when it was released. WINTER KILLS is available on DVD and Blu-Ray but can be hard to find on streaming platforms. It’s well worth seeking out any way you can find it. 5 stars from me.

 

It’s been a long meeting of the Classic Film Club, thank you all for listening! Just before I sign off a quick trip to the trash and treasure department where I pluck out an exploitation movie gem. Something that I recommend especially if you’re not usually drawn to horror, fantasy, or weird cinema in general. This time, I’m proud to say, it’s an Australian film from 1982 that just came back into my view recently when its soundtrack was released – 38 years after the fact! German electronic rock legend Klaus Schulze composed the outstanding score for NEXT OF KIN, an atmospheric haunted house tale directed by New Zealander Tony Williams. The story follows 24-year-old teacher Linda Stevens (Jacki Kerin), who’s inherited Montclare, an imposing mansion in rural Victoria that was turned into a retirement home by her late mother and great Aunt Rita. No sooner has Linda taken possession than strange things start happening. Lights and taps turning on by themselves, the mysterious death of a resident - the usual events one expects in the circumstances. Where NEXT OF KIN really excels is psychologically, especially when Linda discovers her mother’s diary and remembers fragments of the childhood she spent at Montclare. It’s stylish, creepy stuff, with memorable images by d.o.p. Gary Hansen and strong support from John Jarratt as Linda’s boyfriend, Gerda Nichols as nurse Connie and Alex Scott as Barton, the facility’s doctor who may or may not be conspiring with Connie to hide a deep dark secret. The exteriors of NEXT OF KIN were filmed at Overnewton Castle in Keilor, a stunning Victorian Tudor pile that looks like it belongs in a Hammer horror movie more than an Australian psychological thriller – and that’s part of the reason the film works so well. With its moody, slow-burn approach, electronic score and rich, European flavour NEXT OF KIN stands out as a highly unusual and highly ineffective Australian horror movie. It disappeared from view in 1982 and has resurfaced on Prime Video. It’s an obscurity worth investigating. And I’ll be back to investigate, assess and re-assess more classic and offbeat movies soon in the next meeting of The Classic Film Club. Thank you for listening, and bye for now.