Dinner and a Movie: A Welcome to Autumn

I came to Hitchcock a little later than some, seeing my first film somewhere around 2002, when I was about 22 years dvd imageold.  That first film wasn’t the famed Psycho or Vertigo or Rear Window, it was The Trouble with Harry.  This film holds a special place in my heart as it launched my interest in Hitchcock and very soon after viewing it I went on to watch the aforementioned films and then some.  As regular readers of my blog know, I am endeavoring to read all of the books that inspired Hitch’s films and this one is based on a book by Jack Trevor Story, which I have not yet read, but I still couldn’t resist re-watching the movie this weekend.  It’s an ideal film for welcoming in the cooler fall weather.  The screen becomes saturated with the vivid, crisp hues of autumn.

 

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A group of quirky, eccentric, and undoubtedly endearing characters each stumble across the same dead body in the woods.  Each of them has their own peculiar reactions to the body, several of them believing themselves to be the murderers.  However, none of them seem to be particularly disturbed or upset by what they’ve discovered.  Both the physical atmosphere and the tone of the film are so light and whimsical that you almost forget that you’re watching a murder mystery.  An early scene depicts a man and woman jovially making plans to meet for muffins and tea while standing over the dead body.   Although comedy and Hitchcock aren’t usually mentioned in the same breath, this film could certainly be called a comedy, albeit dark comedy.

 

What better to accompany a perfect fall film than a quintessential autumn dinner.  Some variation on pork and apples is one of my favorite cool weather meals.  This one features a spice-crusted pork tenderloin, baked apples, and French style green beans with onions.

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Spice-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

1 Tbs. whole fennel seeds

1/2 tsp. ground corriander

1 Tbs. chili powder

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 whole pork tenderloin (about 1 – 1 1/2 lbs.)

Combine all spices and then pour out onto a large plate or carving board.  Roll the tenderloin in the spice mixture until it is evenly coated on all sides (don’t worry if you have some of the spice mixture left over).  Grease a small roasting pan or casserole dish.  Roast at 375 for about 35 minutes.  Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

 

Baked Apples

5 medium green apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

1 Tbs. flour

1/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

pinch salt

1 Tbs. butter, cut into 4 cubes

Grease a pie or casserole dish.  Toss apples with the next four ingredients then spread evenly in the dish.  Place the chunks of butter on top of the apples.  Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes – or until tender but not mushy.

 

**The green beans are simply sautéed in olive oil with thinly sliced onions, salt, and pepper.

Hitchcock Turns Mediocre Crime Novel into First-Rate Murder Mystery

book imageThe Book

A Shilling for Candles

Author: Josephine Tey

My Rating: ** 2/5

The Film:

Young and Innocent

Released: 1937

Starring: Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney

movie poster imageJosephine Tey’s novel, A Shilling for Candles and Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation, Young and Innocent share the same premise at the most basic level.  The body of actress Christine Clay is found washed ashore and it quickly becomes apparent that it was no accident.  She is discovered by Robert Tisdall, who incidentally had been living with Clay, even though they barely knew each other (in the book he didn’t even know her real name).  He becomes suspect in the case and things turn especially hopeless when it is revealed that she left him a substantial sum of money in her will; a change that had been made only days before her death.

This turn of events seems to seal Tisdall’s fate; except there is one person who comes to believe in Tisdall’s innocence, one Erica Burgoyne, the daughter of the head of police.  In the book Erica takes matters into her own hands to use a very small piece of evidence to clear Tisdall’s name, unbeknownst to him.  In the movie, Erica does not act as single-handedly as she and Tisdall end up on the run together.

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It is understandable why this plot appealed to Hitchcock as it encompassed one of his favorite themes – that of an innocent man on the run, a man who, at the wrong place at the wrong time, ends up being wrongly accused of a violent crime.  However, Hitchcock did Tey’s story a huge favor by extracting the most interesting characters and elements and infusing them with more intrigue, suspense, and of course, romance.    Hitchcock made a good decision, in my opinion, of advancing the character of Robert Tisdall, rather than the inspector in the case, Alan Grant, who is at the forefront of the novel.

The first half of Tey’s novel was mildly entertaining but contained none of the suspense that a well-crafted murder mystery should.  Hitchcock added several scenes that, while not as masterfully constructed as some scenes in his later films, still infuse the story with more suspense than was there originally.  Overall, Hitchcock takes a mediocre crime novel and turns it into a first-rate murder mystery.  While it’s neither as seamless as many of his later films nor is it the best of his pre-American films, it’s still a worthy watch for both Hitchcock fans and film enthusiasts who want to be entertained for a couple of hours.

Friday Film Review: Strangers on a Train

In lieu of my mention of Hitchcock in an earlier post this week, I thought I would review one of his films for my “Friday Film Review,” which I have not done in quite some time.  This post is also a review of Patricia Highsmith’s novel by the same name, as Hitchcock used it as the basis for his film.

Two strangers meet on a train. Guy Haines: sensible, decent, accomplished, respectable. The other, Anthony Bruno: spontaneous, extravagant, rich, bored, obsessive. It doesn’t end there, Bruno is also deeply disturbed, manipulative. . . a psychopath. These two seemingly polar opposites share a train compartment and so begins a swirl of conversation and confession during which Bruno suggests that “everyone is capable of murder.” Is he right?

This is the shared premise of both Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel and Hitchcock’s 1951 film adaptation. However, that’s where the similarities pretty much end. The two go in very different directions with this concept. As for the above question, Highsmith and Hitchcock seem to be on opposing sides of this issue.

During their conversation on the train, Bruno proposes to Guy a double murder deal, where they will each do away with the person who is the thorn in the other’s side. For Guy, it’s his soon to be ex-wife who is making unreasonable demands and trying to interfere with his success. For Bruno, it’s his father whom he abhors. To Bruno, this seems to be the perfect solution since no one knows that he and Guy know each other and there would be no perceived motive.  Guy is not so easy to convince. He leaves the train disturbed, and content to never see Bruno again.

However, through mere happenstance, Guy leaves behind a token of his identity which Bruno exploits and proceeds to haunt Guy, calling at all hours, showing up at social events pretending to be an old friend and embarrassing Guy. All the while, attempting to manipulate, provoke, and convince Guy to do the deed, to become his partner in crime. Which again raises the question, is Bruno right, is every seemingly decent human being capable of murder?

Highsmith seems to side with Bruno and in her uniquely evocative way, calls into question what the seemingly decent human being is capable of when all that he cherishes is suddenly threatened. I felt that Highsmith’s novel was strong up until the very last page. And I mean that, excluding the last page. The ending sort of left me fingering the last few pages to make sure that there wasn’t some hidden prologue, some secret last chapter that I was about to miss out on. The resolution was rather abrupt.  It felt rushed and didn’t seem to mirror the pacing of the rest of the novel. With that said, it didn’t ruin it for me. Highsmith produced a well-written, well-crafted novel with dynamic characters and a subtly suspenseful and addictive plot.

Hitchcock takes the other side of this issue, rooting for the decent ones among us, in his 1951 film that was nominated for best cinematography in that same year. We can see why in one of the most intriguingly artistic scenes of the film when we view a murder through a reflection in the victim’s glasses which have fallen on the ground during her struggle.

The film is not an exact or even close adaptation of the novel, but as I continue to read books that were made into Hitchcock films, I’ve come to love that about him. Reading the book never ruins the movie! Of course the reverse is true as well because they usually share only a central idea or concept and the rest is entirely different.

As with a number of Hitchcock films, some events in the plot are not completely plausible or even logical. An example from this film is when Bruno drops Guy’s lighter.  I won’t say why because I don’t want to totally spoil it, but suffice it to say that it’s a particularly suspenseful scene in the movie.  We witness this scene from two perspectives, with camera shots from both above and below the surface. From below the surface, we see Bruno’s arm slowly extending further and further until he finally grasps the lighter. Then the camera flashes to street level where it becomes obvious that Bruno’s wrist would not even fit in the drain, much less his entire arm! Hitchcock said that he was annoyed with critics who brought up such criticisms because he believed that fear and suspense should suspend all logic. In other words, you should be so on the edge of your seat to know how it will all come together that you’re not even thinking about whether or not it makes sense. And perhaps I would have been if I had not previously read Hitchcock’s statement. Ever since then I’ve been on the lookout for such implausibilities.

Though for entirely different reasons, I thoroughly enjoyed both this book and the film adaptation.