Hitch’s second U.S. film sets the bar for the rest of his career

“Foreign Correspondent” (1940) was recently released on Blu-ray/DVD (dual edition) by Criterion.

By Michael Wilmington

Foreign Corr posterAlfred Hitchcock started his American filmmaking career with a bang, directing a Best Picture Oscar winner and an inarguable classic: his 1940 David O. Selznick-produced film of Daphne du Maurier’s immensely popular Gothic romantic novel “Rebecca.” Though he was under the control of Selznick at his zenith (the year after “Gone With the Wind”), Hitch executed the assignment with near-flawless skill  and panache.

He beautifully dramatizes du Maurier’s romantic tale of a naïve young wife (Joan Fontaine) taken to a mansion by her wealthy new husband (Laurence Olivier), who may have murdered his haunting first wife, Rebecca.

But “Rebecca” wasn’t Hitch’s only 1940 film. Nor is it the one that some Hitchcock critics (and maybe even Hitchcock himself) consider the inarguable classic. Shortly after completing “Rebecca,” and freeing himself from the fealty Selznick felt was owed to du Maurier’s novel, Hitchcock made a second American movie.

This new work was a continuation of the style and technique of the delightfully frightening suspense thrillers he’d made in England in the ’30s: notably “The 39 Steps,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “The Lady Vanishes.”

That second Hitchcock movie was “Foreign Correspondent,” produced by Walter Wanger: a top-notch melodrama of international intrigue and nail-biting suspense that was set in the early days of World War II. Starring the sturdily all-American guy Joel McCrea (Hitch had wanted Gary Cooper) and love interest Laraine Day (Hitch had wanted Fontaine), it was a movie that unabashedly called  for the U.S. to enter the war against Germany, on the side of Hitchcock’s beleaguered homeland Great Britain.

That’s the conclusion McCrea’s pugnacious but immensely likable reporter Johnny Jones (pen name: Huntley Haverstock) reaches after being sent overseas as The New York Globe’s foreign correspondent and witnessing Germany’s murderous espionage and sabotage. As bodies and evidence accumulate, Johnny/Haverstock chases down a Nazi spy ring in England and Holland.

In company with Johnny: the head of an ambiguous peace organization (Herbert Marshall), his beauteous daughter (Day), a suave and plucky British fellow reporter (George Sanders), a kidnapped Dutch diplomat (Albert Bassermann), and assorted spies, officials, killers and bystanders (Edmund Gwenn, Robert Benchley, Eduardo Ciannelli and others). They race from one hair-raising Hitchcockian set-piece to the next; finally culminating in a plane crash, with McCrea and others in the cockpit.

It’s the sort of  convulsively paced, thoroughly engrossing and purely entertaining tale Hitchcock loved to make, with an audience-pleasing flair and imagination that would have been entirely out of place in a faithful classic adaptation like “Rebecca.” But “Foreign Correspondent” was a clear precursor of Hitchcock’s later career and also of the James Bond spy thrillers of the ’60s and beyond, which were partly inspired by his work.

Selznick would not allow Hitchcock to change any of “Rebecca” (except for his habitual joke-cameo appearance). While Selznick has probably been proven right by the film’s 1940 Oscars and continued classic status, “Foreign Correspondent” (which was nominated for six Oscars), has also been validated as the more truly Hitchcockian movie.

It’s full of virtuoso set-pieces, like the windmills that are turning against the wind, the climactic plane crash, the famed umbrella-knocking assassination scene, and other logic-defying moments inserted in defiance of the critics and carpers whom The Master of Suspense dismissively called “The Plausibles.”

Hitch makes his cameo in "Foreign Correspondent."

Hitch makes his cameo in “Foreign Correspondent.”

“Foreign Correspondent” was scripted by Hitchcock’s regular collaborators Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison, with dialogue by James Hilton (the novelist who wrote “Goodbye Mr. Chips”) and the Algonquin Round Table’s resident wit Robert Benchley (who also appears in the cast as a fellow reporter). The source was an actual foreign correspondent’s memoir, “Personal History” by Vincent Sheean.

One of the uncredited writers on “Foreign Correspondent” was Richard Maibaum, who was later the main Bond series screenwriter. Besides Maibaum, the remarkable gallery of uncredited writers on the project includes Ben Hecht, Harold Clurman, John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin and Budd Schulberg, or almost everyone in Hollywood, it seems, but William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Of course, there was the script-shaping genius of Hitchcock himself (and of his wife Alma): Hitchcock, who of all non-actor movie directors, is perhaps the most visibly present in his films. We sense him in and behind nearly every shot.

But he’s more present in “Foreign Correspondent” than in “Rebecca.” Freed for the moment from Selznick (they would make two more pictures together), Hitch charts the major direction he would follow right up to the end of his career: the ingenious set-pieces, the games with the audience, the personal touches and brilliant identification devices.

He also produced a film proselytizing for America’s entrance into the war with the Allies and against the Nazi juggernaut that was admired as propaganda by no less an expert than Joseph Goebbels himself.

Criterion’s extras include a 1972 interview with Hitchcock by Dick Cavett and a 1946 radio adaptation of “Foreign Correspondent” with Joseph Cotten.

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The Film Noir File: ‘Strangers on a Train’ is one you must catch

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

Farley Granger (left) and Robert Walker give pitch-perfect performances in "Strangers."

Farley Granger (left) and Robert Walker give pitch-perfect performances in “Strangers.”

Strangers on a Train (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Monday, March 10: 4 p.m. (1 p.m.). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker and Ruth Roman.

Hitchcock starts the story by contrasting the shiny, two-toned spats of Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) with the sensible black dress shoes of Guy Haines (Farley Granger) as each emerges from a Diamond cab. We follow these parallel footsteps as they board the same train, hence the title.

These brief shots contain the crux of the film: Model citizens often hide hard-core badness and the most unsavory renegades and reprobates can surprise you with a virtue or two (especially if we count charm and fashion sense as virtues). Read the full review here.

Thursday, March 6

A Kiss Before Dying poster6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956, Gerd Oswald). With Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter and Joanne Woodward. Reviewed in FNB, on May 17, 2011 and Nov. 10, 2012.

Friday, March 7

11 a.m. (8 a.m.): “The MacomberAffair” (1947, Zoltan Korda). Widely regarded as one of the cinema’s best films ever taken from an Ernest Hemingway story, this simmeringly tense, darkly faithful adaptation of Hemingway’s African tale “The Short Happy Like of Francis Macomber” focuses on a dangerous triangle on safari. The potent threesome are a cynical Great White Hunter (Gregory Peck), his boyishly enthusiastic rich neophyte hunter of an employer, Macomber (Robert Preston), and Macomber’s sultry-eyed seemingly ready-to-be-faithless wife (Susan Hayward). They enact a timeless drama surrounded by wild animals and scorching real-life African settings. Few filmmakers are better with jungle beasts and jungle people than director Zoltan Korda (’The Jungle Book,’ “Elephant Boy,” “Four Feathers”), and this may be his best movie.

5 p.m. (2 p.m.): “Count the Hours” (1953, Don Siegel). Tough, lean Siegel “B” about a migrant worker accused of murder in a prejudiced town, and the inferno of a trial into which he and his idealistic lawyer (MacDonald Carey) are thrown. With Teresa Wright and Jack Elam. [Read more...]

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Film noir greats ‘Shadow of a Doubt,’ In a Lonely Place,’ Double Indemnity’ and more on the big screen in LA

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) is the 1 p.m. matinee Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

A bright and beautiful small town girl named Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored. Bored with her well-ordered home in her Norman Rockwellish little city of Santa Rosa, Calif., – where trees line the sunlit streets, everyone goes to church on Sunday and lots of them read murder mysteries at night. Charlie has more exotic dreams. She adores her globe-trotting, urbane Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) – for whom she was nicknamed – and is deliriously happy when he shows up in Santa Rosa for a visit.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

But Uncle Charlie has some secrets that no one in his circle would guess – not Uncle Charlie’s adoring sister (Patricia Collinge), nor his good-hearted brother-in-law (Henry Travers), nor their mystery-loving neighbor Herbie (Hume Cronyn), nor Charlie herself. Uncle Charlie, who conceals a darker personality and profession beneath his charming persona, is on the run, pursued by a dogged police detective (Macdonald Carey), who suspects him of being a notorious serial killer who seduces rich old widows and kills them for their money. As handsome, cold-blooded Uncle Charlie, Cotten, who also called “Shadow” his personal favorite film, is, with Robert Walker and Anthony Perkins, one of the three great Hitchcockian psychopaths.

“Shadow of a Doubt,” released in 1943, was Hitchcock’s sixth American movie and the one he often described as his favorite. As he explained to François Truffaut, this was because he felt that his critical enemies, the “plausibles,” could have nothing to quibble about with “Shadow.” It was written by two superb chroniclers of Americana, Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”) and Sally Benson (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), along with Hitch’s constant collaborator, wife Alma Reville. The result is one of the supreme examples of Hitchcockian counterpoint: with a sunny, tranquil background against which dark terror erupts.

Barbara Stanwyck book

On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., the American Cinematheque presents a Nicholas Ray night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood: “Johnny Guitar,” starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden, and “In a Lonely Place,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. As Jean-Luc Godard said: “Nicholas Ray is the cinema.” And speaking of Godard, the AC’s Aero Theatre is hosting a Godard retrospective, starting Feb. 20.

Femmes fatales don’t particularly like birthdays, but here’s an exception:  “Double Indemnity” turns 70 this year! Did you know Raymond Chandler made a cameo in the film? Read the story here.

And be sure to attend on Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica: Barbara Stanwyck biographer Victoria Wilson will sign her book and introduce a screening of “Double Indemnity” and “The Bitter Tea of General Yen.” The signing starts at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Wilson has two other signings coming up; for details, call Larry Edmunds Bookshop at 323-463-3273.

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Alfred Hitchcock by the numbers

This terrific chart appeared in The Guardian in August; copyright Adam Frost and Zhenia Vasilev.

hitch_10 copy4

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Highlights from the next Sunday with Hitch on TCM

Sundays with Hitch smaller sizeTCM’s monthlong celebration of the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, and his stellar filmmaking continues on Sunday, Sept. 15.

Here’s what we at FNB are especially looking forward to. Must pop copious quantities of corn. Yum!

“The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956)

Vertigo

“Rear Window”

“To Catch a Thief”

You can see the full schedule here.

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The Noir File: The Master of Suspense spices up Sundays

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and  pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). 

PICK OF THE WEEK: Sundays with Hitch continues

Sunday, Sept. 8

Nearly 14 hours of Hitch. Master of suspense. Impish entertainer. Dark comedian. Tormented soul. A movie director with few equals.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Under Capricorn” (1949, Alfred Hitchcock).  With Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Margaret Leighton.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Stage Fright” (1950, Hitchcock). Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Todd.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “I Confess” (1953, Hitchcock). Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): ”The Wrong Man” (1956, Hitchcock). Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Saboteur” (1942, Hitchcock). Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Norman Lloyd.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Hitchcock). With Joel McCrea, Laraine Day and George Sanders.

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint star in “North by Northwest.”

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1950, Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason.

12:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m.): “The Ring” (1927).  With  Carl Brisson and Lillian Hall-Davies. (Silent, with music accompaniment.) 

Most of these films have been reviewed on FNB. Find them with the site search key.

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On the radar: ‘Lee Miller in Fashion,’ front-row seats at MBFW, Toronto film fest in full swing, 3-D film noir in Hollywood

Model, muse and photographer Lee Miller

I’m looking forward to reading Becky E. Conekin’s new book, “Lee Miller in Fashion.” The NYT’s Cathy Horyn says the book is very engaging and nicely researched.

Want front-row seats at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York? You can watch the shows here. MBFW started Thursday, Sept. 5, and runs through Sept. 12.

Jim Jarmusch’s new movie, a vampire romance called “Only Lovers Left Alive,” screened Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Toronto International Film Fest. The fest runs Sept. 5-15.

The World 3-D Film Fest starts Friday, Sept. 6, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. “Dial M for Murder” shows Sunday and there is a special film-noir night on Sept. 12! The fest runs through Sept. 15.

Meanwhile, the Hitch fest continues on TCM. “Vertigo” ran Thursday, as noted on the FNB facebook/twitter feeds, and the Sunday schedule is packed with great titles.

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Everyone enjoying Sundays with Hitch on TCM?

Sundays with Hitch this month on TCM is a gold mine of film-noir viewing opps. The master of suspense is celebrated with TCM’s most comprehensive Alfred Hitchcock festival yet, from premieres of several British silent films to Hollywood classics that defined the thriller genre.

Which ones will make your must-see list?

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Film Noir File: Deneuve, Buñuel cast spell with ‘Belle de Jour’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK: Two by Luis Buñuel as part of Catherine Deneuve Day

Tristana” (1970, Luis Buñuel). Monday, Aug. 12, 10 p.m., (7 p.m.).

Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Buñuel ). Monday, Aug. 12, 2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.).

Icy, ravishing Catherine Deneuve stars in “Belle de Jour.”

The most beautiful movie actress alive paired with the most brilliantly rebellious filmmaker.

That was the incendiary match-up of star Catherine Deneuve and director Luis Buñuel – who were most famous for their 1967 French erotic drama “Belle de Jour.” In that great film, Deneuve – so lovely and so classically, radiantly, sexily blonde that she took up residence in male dreams forever – played Severine, a Parisian wife, who becomes a prostitute during the day to escape her boring bourgeois life and her handsome but boring husband (Jean Sorel). Severine then falls into a world of crime, hypocrisy, dreamlike perversity and peril. It was the most popular, and the best-remembered, film of Buñuel’s entire career.

But they made another film that Buñuel preferred and is one of his most personal: “Tristana (1970). Shot in Spain, based on a novella by famed author Benito Perez Galdos (adapted by Buñuel and Julio Alejandro), this not underrated but definitely underseen film starred Deneuve in a role just as alluring and frightening as the wayward Severine: Tristana, the young orphan seduced, exploited and virtually imprisoned by her guardian Don Lope (Fernando Rey). Don Lope, worldly and egocentric, is an aristocrat of radical political beliefs, whose desire for his ward undermines his ethics – even as Tristana, a seeming victim, turns exploiter herself and exacts a terrible revenge.

“Tristana” earned the admiration of Alfred Hitchcock.

“Tristana” is a masterpiece, but it’s also a grimmer, sadder, more psychologically disturbing picture than “Belle de Jour.” Buñuel, notorious for his audacity, has directed some of the cruelest scenes in cinema, in films like “Un Chien Andalou,” “Los Olvidados” and “Viridiana.“ But he never filmed a more wounding scene than Tristana on the balcony: a sequence that delighted no less an epicure of sadism than Alfred Hitchcock. “Tristana! That leg! That leg!” Hitch exclaimed when the two directors met at a party. Buñuel probably only smiled.

Other Deneuve Day highlights include: “Repulsion” (1965, Roman Polanski), “Mississippi Mermaid” (1969, François Truffaut) and “Un Flic” (1972, Jean-Pierre Melville). See TCM for the full list. Films are in French (“Tristana” in Spanish) with English subtitles. [Read more...]

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Film noir flourishes at TCM film festival in Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a prime location at the TCM fest. Photo by John Nowak

From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Marie Windsor

The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.

At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.

There was film noir aplenty at the TCM festival as well as special guests, panels, a poolside screening and parties. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.

“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.

Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in “River of No Return.”

Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)

It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.

A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!

Eva Marie Saint discussed “On the Waterfront” with Bob Osborne on Friday night. Photo by John Nowak

Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”

The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.

Eddie Muller interviewed Susan Ray at the screening of “They Live by Night.” Photo by John Nowak

Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”

And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.

Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.

Bob Osborne chats with Ann Blyth before Saturday night’s screening of “Mildred Pierce.” Photo by John Nowak

Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”

Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?

Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.

A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.

Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.

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