Film Noir File: Have a Happy, Haunting Halloween with Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

The Birds” (1963, Alfred Hitchcock). Saturday, Oct. 25. 5:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m.)

Most critics attacked “The Birds.” But movie audiences flocked to it.

Most critics attacked “The Birds.” But movie audiences flocked to it.

A smug, snobbish, stylishly beautiful, and very, very blonde San Francisco socialite named Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) chases a cocky lawyer she’s just met named Mitch (Rod Taylor), to his family home in scenic Bodega Bay, to mock him with a gift of love birds in a cage. Once they’ve reconnected, Mitch and Melanie commence on what first seems a typical Hollywood movie romance, with typical Hitchcockian mother problems (Jessica Tandy). And there’s another woman – Mitch’s old flame, a gorgeous brunette schoolteacher (Suzanne Pleshette).

Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock on location for “The Birds.”

Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock on location for “The Birds.”

Suddenly, inexplicably, the uncaged wild birds of Bodega Bay – crows, sparrows, sea gulls – start massing into murderous flocks or going on solitary raids, attacking Melanie and everyone else. As the attacks escalate in fury, their hapless human targets become immersed in an avian nightmare from the sky where no one is safe.

Perhaps most terrifying is the famous scene when Melanie sits on a bench outside the school to pick up Mitch’s kids, while, in the schoolroom, the children chant a doggerel nursery rhyme and behind Melanie masses of crows gather and perch, waiting quietly on the schoolyard jungle gym. Chaos ensues, with typical Hitchcockian invention and panache.

Masses of crows gather and perch, patiently waiting to attack.

Masses of crows gather and perch, patiently waiting to attack.

Back in 1963, critics, especially the more intellectual ones, generally attacked “The Birds.” But movie audiences flocked to it and that is the verdict that has lasted. The source of Evan Hunter’s screenplay was a novelette by Daphne du Maurier (“Rebecca”). The crisp and crystalline color cinematography is by Hitch regular Robert Burks and the menacing, shrieking bird sounds were created by Hitch’s masterly composer, Bernard Herrmann. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, Oct. 25: Horror Day

Sweeney Todd poster 19822 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (1982, Terry Hughes & Harold Price). A film of the celebrated Harold Prince Broadway staging of Stephen Sondheim’s very dark musical play about the notorious killer-barber Sweeney Todd. With Angela Lansbury and George Hearn from the original stage cast.

4:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.): “Mad Love” (1935, Karl Freund). The most stylish film version of novelist Maurice Renard’s eerie horror tale “The Hands of Orlac,” in which a murderer’s hands are grafted onto the wrists of a famed concert pianist and amputee (Colin Clive) by a mad doctor (Peter Lorre), with an unspeakable yen for the pianist’s wife (Frances Drake). This one has a brilliantly maniacal performance by Lorre, and it’s a masterpiece of noir photography by German expressionist cameraman-turned-Hollywood-director Freund and his great cinematographer Gregg Toland (“Citizen Kane“). With Sara Haden and Edward Brophy.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Haunting” (1963, Robert Wise). With Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn. The second great American horror movie of 1963. (See “The Birds” above.)

Sunday, Oct. 26

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): In a Lonely Place(1950, Nicholas Ray). With Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame and Frank Lovejoy.

Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner star in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” from 1941.

Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner star in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” from 1941.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1941, Victor Fleming). The often-filmed Robert Louis Stevenson thriller about the good doctor whose potion turns him into a bad man. Spencer Tracys Jekyll-Hyde is much more realistically and psychologically played than the classic hammery of predecessors John Barrymore and the Oscar-winning Fredric March. Tracy does him with less extreme makeup, as a brilliant, sensitive but tormented Victorian Britisher beset with repressions and secret desires that explode into evil with the creation of Hyde. Fleming directed this movie near his “Gone with the Wind”-“Wizard of Oz” heyday and, though it’s a bit slow in the beginning, the last 30 minutes are a noir triumph. The excellent supporting cast includes Ingrid Bergman (as Hyde’s terrorized sex victim Ivy), Lana Turner, Donald Crisp and C. Aubrey Smith. (Off-screen, Bergman reportedly had affairs with Fleming and Tracy.)

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Diabolique” (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot). With Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel and Vera Clouzot.

4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor). With Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty and Angela Lansbury. Reviewed in FNB on August 26, 2012.

Monday, Oct. 27: Jack Carson Day

Jack Carson died on Jan. 2, 1963, the same day as noir star Dick Powell. Carson was 52, Powell was 58.

Jack Carson died on Jan. 2, 1963, the same day as noir star Dick Powell. Carson was 52, Powell was 58.

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz). With Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott and Eve Arden.

Tuesday, Oct. 28

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Nosferatu” (1922, F. W. Murnau). Regarded by many critics as one of the greatest German films – and one of the greatest horror movies – of all time: F. W. Murnau’s hypnotic, brilliantly visual, unacknowledged adaptation of Bram Stoker’s vampire classic “Dracula.” Murnau’s Nosferatu, the mysterious Max Schreck, is one of the eeriest, creepiest, most frightening horror film monsters ever. He really looks as if he’d just crawled up out of a grave to kill you and drink your blood. And if you want a quick one-stop lesson in German film expressionism, here is a consummate example. (German silent, with intertitles and music score.)

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Hollywood Costume comes to the Wilshire May Co. building

 Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” shot by Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.


Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” shot by Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Starting on Oct. 2, you can stroll through history in style at the Hollywood Costume exhibition, which is housed in the Wilshire May Company building (at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles), the future location of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and sponsored by Swarovski, this show explores costume design as an essential tool of cinematic storytelling. (The show runs through March 2, 2015.)

The designer Adrian at work.

The designer Adrian at work.

Summing it up perfectly was a quotation inside the show from Adrian, a legendary Golden Age designer and creator of “The Wizard of Oz” ruby slippers, which are on display. Said Adrian: “Few people in an audience watching a great screen production realize the importance of any gown worn by the feminine star. They may notice that it’s attractive, that they would like to have it copied, that it is becoming.

“The fact that it was definitely planned to mirror a definite mood, to be as much a part of the play as the lines or the scenery seldom occurs to them. But that most assuredly is true.”

More than 150 iconic costumes curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis will be on display – including Marlene Dietrich’s costumes from “Morocco” (1930) and Marilyn Monroe’s infamous white dress from “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) as well as Jared Leto’s costume from “Dallas Buyers Club and several entries from “American Hustle and “The Great Gatsby” (all 2013).

Film noir makes a showing (there’d be trouble otherwise!) with Kim Novak’s emerald-green dress from “Vertigo” and Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” not to mention examples from “Mildred Pierce,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Basic Instinct” and “No Country for Old Men.” The work of legendary Edith Head is well represented.

Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis

Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis

In conjunction with the Hollywood Costume exhibition, the Academy will present screenings, starting Saturday with a terrific double feature: the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men and “The Big Lebowski.” Several of the featured costume designers will appear in person to introduce their films.

Designer and curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis originally approached the Academy several years ago with the idea for the show. The Academy passed on Hollywood Costume, so Landis took it to London’s V&A, which snapped it up.

Now the Academy apparently feels the time is right for the show. Commenting on the irony of London having the show first, Landis said, at the press preview Monday: “You can’t be a prophet in your own land.”

Most assuredly.

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Happy Halloween, everyone!

Here’s a shot of one of my fave costumes – a Hitch/Tippi homage.

Speaking of Hitchcock, this topic came up last night at a Writers Bloc Presents discussion with film critic and historian David Thomson. “Vertigo,” which flopped upon its release in 1958, recently ousted “Citizen Kane” for the No. 1 spot on the BFI’s Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films of all time.

The question: Does “Vertigo” work with an audience or is it best appreciated at home/without a crowd?

Thomson, whose latest book is “The Big Screen,” was enthralling and I particularly enjoyed his assessment of why film noir continues to captivate. Said Thomson: “It’s about the lonely hero who may be going crazy. Many men have had that feeling in the last 60 years.”

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Hitch bio-flix premieres, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Dressed to Kill’ at Aero

Decades after making “The Birds” (1963) and “Marnie” (1964) with Alfred Hitchcock, actress Tippi Hedren said the director harassed her and hindered her career, after she rebuffed his advances. “The Girl,” a recounting of her side of the story, premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on HBO.

Directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth Hughes, ”The Girl” stars Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. If other Hitchcock blondes, such as Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, received similar treatment, they did not publicly reveal it. You can read Richard Brody’s excellent review of the movie here.

Writing for HuffPo, TV critic Lynn Elber describes the “stunned silence” after a private screening of the “The Girl,” held for Hedren, her friends and family, including daughter Melanie Griffith.

According to Elber, Hedren had this to say after the event in Beverly Hills: “I’ve never been in a screening room where nobody moved, nobody said anything. Until my daughter jumped up and said, ‘Well, now I have to go back into therapy.’”

It will be interesting to compare that treatment to “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” which opens the AFI Fest 2012 on Thursday, Nov. 1. (General release is Nov. 23.)

Directed by Sacha Gervasi, the film highlights Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville and her contributions to his work, particularly 1959’s “Psycho.” The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as Alma and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. (Imelda Staunton plays Alma in HBO’s “The Girl.”)

And, tonight at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, there is a great double bill: “Psycho” and “Dressed to Kill” (1981, Brian De Palma), starring Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson.

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TCM Classic Film Festival 2012 draws stars and fans

From Thursday night’s world premiere of the newly restored “Cabaret” to the closing-night screening of “Annie Hall” on Sunday, the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood was packed with stars, fans, media and movie experts. “Cabaret,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, opened the fest. The red-carpet event at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre drew stars Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Michael York.

Other luminaries included: Kim Novak, Bob Mackie, Debbie Reynolds, Norman Jewison, Rhonda Fleming, Peggy Cummins, Marsha Hunt, Rose McGowan, Richard Anderson, Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert Evans, Robert Towne, Robert Wagner, Kirk Douglas, Stanley Donen, Tippi Hedren, Angie Dickinson, Tina Sinatra, Tony Roberts and Walter Mirisch.

And fittingly, since the fest’s theme was style, there were film noir screenings as well as events devoted to both noir and fashion. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller programmed the classic noir offerings, Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards of noircast.net led a panel discussion and author Foster Hirsch was on hand to interview Walter Mirisch, whose first foray into producing was 1947’s “Fall Guy” by director Reginald Le Borg.

I’m still recovering from so much delightful viewing, but here are a few photo highlights, courtesy of the fest.

All images courtesy of TCM Classic Film Festival/photographers Jason Merritt, Edward M. Pio Roda, Mark Hill and Adam Rose.

A festival poster at the Roosevelt Hotel, HQ for the event.

Bob Osborne and Liza Minnelli

Ben Mankiewicz and Tippi Hedren

Inside Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Fans lined up in the rain to see movies at Grauman's.

A festival display inside the Roosevelt

Noir star Marsha Hunt, Eddie Muller and Rose McGowan

From left: Robert Evans, Robert Towne and Robert Osborne before the "Chinatown" screening.

Kim Novak made her mark at Grauman's.

Kim Novak and her husband

Fresh prints by Kim Novak

Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame

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‘Marnie’ is a complex, thoughtful and satisfying story

Marnie/1964/Universal Pictures/130 min.

In honor of Tippi Hedren’s 82nd birthday earlier this month (Jan. 19), I’m running this review of “Marnie.” In 1983, Hedren, a Minnesota native of Scandinavian descent, founded the Roar Foundation to support abandoned exotic felines at the Shambala Preserve in Acton, Calif.

Most cynics have romantic souls and if there’s one Hitchcock film that works on this premise it’s “Marnie.” Though the legendary auteur frequently featured redemptive, romantic endings, here a pair of feuding lovers must work through many an issue before they hit happily ever after. It’s also a portrait of a wayward woman struggling with a tortured psyche, stemming from an unresolved childhood trauma.

Marnie (Tippi Hedren) and Mark (Sean Connery) must work through many an issue.

In the opening scene we meet impeccably dressed, raven-haired career girl Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) carrying a citron-colored handbag that’s as covetable today as it was in 1964. (Hedren starred in Hitchcock’s “The Birds” one year earlier.)

Marnie has just finished doing what she does best: stealing from her employer, then donning a new disguise so she can pull the same scam at another company.

Besides her sizable clothing and hair-color budget, Marnie wants money to give to her poor frumpy Mama (Louise Latham), telling her: “That’s what money’s for. To spend.” (Especially when it’s someone else’s cash.) But despite these handouts, which Marnie personally delivers, Mama’s uptight and hard to please, preferring to lavish her attention on a little girl from the neighborhood (Kimberly Beck) instead of on her daughter.

At her next job, Marnie sports auburn up-do’s and sensible shoes. It’s here that she meets devastatingly handsome businessman Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). Intense and domineering, Mark is quickly smitten but ice-queen Marnie has no interest in him or in any man, though she does weaken long enough to kiss him.

Diane Baker plays sassy Lil.

Not so impressed with Marnie is Mark’s sharp, sassy sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker). Packed with interesting women, the cast also includes Mariette Hartley as Marnie’s office colleague and Melody Thomas Scott as young Marnie.

Marnie’s coldness just makes Mark more determined – he is used to getting what he wants – and once he finds out about her criminal past, he uses this info to hasten their marriage.

The fact that Marnie can’t stand his touch doesn’t make for the most romantic honeymoon. Perhaps if he were a tad less controlling …

Will Mark help Marnie confront her past before her spate of Dior-collar crime catches up with her? That’s the movie’s source of suspense. It’s loosely based on a novel by Winston Graham but Hitchcock typically used the literary source material as merely a starting point to create a tension-filled, sometimes terrifying, reality and render his unique vision. The script came from Jay Presson Allen, a former actress and writer, who also worked with Sidney Lumet.

Hitchcock enjoyed exploring psychosexual theory in his films, sometimes with a smirk, sometimes not. In this case, Dr. Hitch diagnoses frigidity, rescue fantasies, control issues bordering on obsession, repressed memories and of course a major power struggle.

The movie was trashed upon its release. Critics called Hitchcock sloppy and unfairly pounced on Hedren’s acting. The editing is occasionally choppy, some of the backdrops look fake, the screen goes red when Marnie sees the color red, there are thunderstorms aplenty. Though they might seem flawed or slightly old-hat, these noirish devices reflect Marnie’s off-kilter world, her confused and anguished psychological state.

And Hitchcock’s personality was too controlling and perfectionistic to have coasted through this movie. Conscious of every detail of every frame, he sometimes shopped for and selected accessories like hats and handbags because even these seemingly minor visual elements affected the color palette of each shot. He also wanted classic lines for the clothes so that in years to come they wouldn’t look dated.

Always engaging, sometimes thrilling, “Marnie” is a complex, thoughtful and satisfying story.

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‘Marnie’ quick hit

Marnie/1964/Universal Pictures/130 min.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie,” a twisted rescue fantasy meets a pretty passel of repressed memories. The wannabe rescuer is intense, domineering and drop-dead gorgeous Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). His damsel in distress, and often in disguise, is chic thief Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), still dogged by a childhood trauma. Marnie is determined to buy a few new dresses for her fashion-challenged Mama (Louise Latham), just as Hitch was determined to make Tippi his new Grace Kelly. Always engaging, sometimes thrilling, “Marnie” is a complex, thoughtful and satisfying story.

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Edith, Head of her class: A shrewd woman with a sharp eye and unprecedented success in Hollywood

Famed costume designer Edith Head knew that clothes should underscore an actor’s character, not upstage it. And she applied the same discipline to dealing with Hollywood’s elite, putting every ounce of effort into making them look their absolute best while deflecting attention from herself.

Edith Head

Actress Susan Claassen

A shrewd approach along with her natural talent for design, a gift for navigating studio politics and a tremendous amount of hard work made her one of the movie industry’s most successful women.

In her 60-year career, at Paramount and Universal, she worked on more than 1,131 films, received 35 Academy Award nominations and won eight Oscars, more than any other woman. (Walt Disney, with 26 Oscars, holds the record for a man.)

This savvy lady with her tailored suits, neat little bun and statement specs comes out of the shadows and into the spotlight in “A Conversation With Edith Head,” which opened Friday night at LA’s Odyssey Theatre. And she’s spirited, strong, funny and flawed as played by actress Susan Claassen.

One of her peccadilloes was a disdain for modesty. “I’m not different from other designers, I’m the best,” Claassen tells the audience matter of factly. Another memorable Head aphorism: “You can have anything you want in life, if you dress for it.”

Tinseltown anecdotes and stories of working with the stars are sprinkled throughout the play, which is set in 1981. Head died in October of that year at age 83, still under contract to Universal, having just completed the Steve Martin film “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”

The show recreates Head's cocktail dress for Bette Davis (far left) and a gown for Elizabeth Taylor (far right).

The format includes questions from the audience as well as free advice on your sartorial choices. Since Claassen called me stunning and asked if I was a model, naturally I think the woman is the greatest genius known to Western civilization. ;)

But, joking aside, Claassen is brilliant in this role, capturing the character’s gestures, mannerisms and demeanor without mimicry or impersonation. Claassen reveals the enormous power Head wielded through her sketch pad and pencil as well as the sacrifices (15-hour days, six days a week in her heyday), self-doubt and sadness that were facets of her extraordinary life.

A closer look at the recreated dress for Bette Davis in "All About Eve" from 1950.

Claassen, who recently received an Ovation nomination for Lead Actress in a Play for this part, co-wrote the work with Paddy Calistro, author of the book “Edith Head’s Hollywood.” The idea came to Claassen while watching a TV biography about Head.

Says Claassen: “Not only do I bear a striking resemblance to Edith, but we share the same love for clothes and fashion. … There are many myths about her, but she was a discreet, tenacious personality. She knew whose hips needed clever disguising and made sure those legendary stars always looked the part.”

Head was a frequent collaborator with Alfred Hitchcock and added élan to the wardrobe of film noir stars, dressing, for example, Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity,” Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Blvd.,” Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious,” Grace Kelly in “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief,” Kim Novak in “Vertigo,” and Tippi Hedren in “The Birds.”

She also dressed Bette Davis as the glamorous actress Margo Channing in “All About Eve” and designed Elizabeth Taylor’s white ball gown in “A Place in the Sun.” In fact, she worked with nearly all the Hollywood greats, including Mae West, Clara Bow, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Sean Connery, Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

When in 1967 Paramount chose not to renew her contract, she was hired by Universal, thanks to her friendship with Hitchcock, who perhaps really was her favorite director, despite her practical policy of naming her favorite director as the one for whom she was currently working.

Opening night fell on Head's birthday. Cake and champagne were in order, natch.

Though Head’s motto was to accentuate the positive and camouflage the negative, the chapter of her childhood spent in the Nevada desert was good training for holding her own in Hollywood. She was, she said, used to dealing with scorpions.

Opening night coincided with what would have been Head’s 114th birthday so, after the show, party guests sipped champagne and ate red-velvet birthday cake, donated by Susie Cakes.

“A Conversation With Edith Head” is a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 90025. It runs Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 13. (The play premiered in Tucson, Ariz., in 2002 and has since played in many US cities and abroad.) Tickets are $40. For more information: 310-477-2055; www.edithhead.biz.

Photos from the production are copyright of Film Noir Blonde.

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