Review- North By Northwest (1959)

Review- North By Northwest (1959)

Suave, debonair advertising executive Roger Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent which results in a gang of foreign spies trying to bump him off whilst making it look like an accident. This doesn’t go to plan. Instead, whilst trying to prove his innocence he then gets framed for murder and has to go on the run. He meets the beautiful Eve Kendall who pledges that she will help him but Thornhill’s suspicions start to tell him that she isn’t the person she says she is.

How the blazes do you review a film that is widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made? Here goes. Here are some of my observations on rewatching this classic.


Cary Grant is the perfect leading man. Handsome and a great actor to boot when it comes to the serious scenes (check him out during the aeroplane scene) but also great when it comes to the comedy and one-liners (I loved the scenes with his mother. In fact, when she exited the film I was gutted as her pithy lines are gold).


A huge part of Hitchcock’s films are his leading ladies. It’s great to see Eve Marie Saint- another gorgeous Hitchcock female character who isn’t just eye candy.


The plot for North By Northwest is full of double-crossings and characters not turning out to be who they say they are and sometimes more than once. Things aren’t as they seem with Cold War paranoia running rampant in the narrative.

It’s so nice to revisit peak Hitchcock, with every frame looking like it’s been painted. Hitchcock’s direction is (as per) utterly spellbinding- like the frame that is shot from above the ground and looks like a civil planning diagram made flesh. I also love the scene in the railway station in which Roger is dressed as a railway worker and sinks into the crowd and the scene becomes something akin to a Where’s Wally drawing. As there are so many railway workers present all wearing the same uniform, this gives Roger a chance to escape undetected. This scene was such a great idea.

The scene in which Roger gets off the bus in the middle of nowhere is both surreal and unsettling. Thornhill is made vulnerable by the vast open space especially when being chased by a malevolent crop-dusting plane. Hitchcock delighted in depicting the everyday situations whereby people are at their most exposed and powerless. Another example is, of course, Marion Crane naked in the shower.


Mount Rushmore makes for a spectacular and audacious setting for the film’s finale. Such a locale sounds gimmicky but North By Northwest never feels showy.  Hitchcock’s direction and visual touches never get in the way of his film’s plot and entertainment value that are accessible to everyone rather than just to the Film School mob.

Hitchcock himself appears in the film in a cute cameo in which he misses a bus during the opening credits of the film.

Bernard Herrmann’s score is iconic and second only to Psycho regarding his soundtracks for Hitchcock’s movies. There’s so much urgency to his score and the results are breathtaking.

I had to re-watch the scene in which Martin Landau’s character talked about his ‘woman’s intuition’. I realised that my ears hadn’t deceived me and that his character is gay. On doing some research it is mentioned in the script that his mannerisms were described as ‘effeminate’. Even though it was decades before such portrayals would be permitted in mainstream American cinema, Landau discussed with Hitchcock whether he could portray his character as homosexual. Hitchcock said for him to go for it. This was trailblazing and very daring for its time.


There’s more I could discuss about the film and its plot but I’m not going to ruin any surprises for anyone unfortunate enough to not have seen the film.

A deserved classic.

5 stars out of 5


Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- 12 Angry Men (1957)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- 12 Angry Men (1957)

A young man is accused of stabbing his abusive father to death. 12 jurors assemble in a room to vote and discuss whether he is guilty or not. The verdict must be unanimous. If there is any reasonable doubt, the men must return a verdict of not guilty. If the young man is found guilty he will be executed by electric chair. The men hold a preliminary vote in which everyone states that they think the young man is guilty- except one. Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) states that he would like to discuss the crime and the events surrounding it with the other jurors.


12 Angry Men is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking. It was originally performed as a teleplay of the same name and then adapted for the stage and then this feature film production. The cast here is flawless and includes such luminaries as Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall and Jack Warden.

Regarding the men on the jury, there is such a diversity of social class, opinion and experience. We have the blue-collar worker rubbing shoulders with an architect and advertising executive. We also have a wide range of ages.


It feels like all of life is here. We have the jurors who have let their prejudices regarding class and race cloud their objectivity and hence why they think he is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. We also have those who have the strength to hold their own opinions in the face of opposition or at least are willing to discuss them with the other jurors even though everyone else thinks that the accused is guilty. There are also the jurors who have the strength to change their opinion from guilty to not guilty. Finally, we have those who go with the majority no matter what. They just want to fit in with no thought of their own. I couldn’t help but think of social media comment sections on news stories when I watched 12 Angry Men.

Through logic and by using his intellect, Juror 8 demonstrates how the accused could very well be not guilty. Juror 8 is akin to a saint in a white suit. This is in stark contrast to Juror 10 (Ed Begley) and his vile out-and-out lynch-mob racism and the loud-mouthed rage-consumed tirades of Juror 3 (J Lee Cobb) who is ready to send the young man to the electric chair and will relish it when it happens. In fact, it’s this character who goes through the biggest character arc by the end of the film as it’s obvious that he is projecting his estranged relationship with his son onto the young man who stands accused. This final scene with this character is extremely powerful as is the aftermath with Fonda helping him put on his suit jacket as the men leave the room.


The fact that all of the action mostly takes place in one room but never feels tired or monotonous is another reason why director Sidney Lumet did such a sterling job. I love the fact that it’s a sweltering day when all of the action takes place. These are the perfect conditions for such a tinderbox of a movie. You can almost feel the heat.


In fact one of the scenes that doesn’t take place in this room is at the very start of the movie when we see the jurors leaving the courtroom. Powerfully, we also see the young man whose life hangs in the balance.

I also love that for most of the film, there are no character names but just juror numbers. Earlier on in the film when a juror’s name is asked to be verified on a list, the character doesn’t state his name but points to it on a checklist. Only two names are revealed and this is during the film’s conclusion.


12 Angry Men was remade in 1997 by William Friedkin. In anyone else’s hands, this remake would have felt unnecessary and a pale imitation. In Friedkin’s hands, it’s amazing and well worth checking out.

But the original is the best. It would sound like a hackneyed cliche to state that 12 Angry Men is just as relevant now as it was when it was made. But it’s true.

Review- Dracula (1958)

Review- Dracula (1958)

This 1958 film adaptation was noteworthy as it was the first film based around the character which was made by the legendary studio Hammer Films.


This adaptation has been pared down and changed to help the film’s narrative flow (an example of this is that Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to purposely destroy Dracula. This is very different in Stoker’s original book in which he is there to buy property). Some characters were dropped completely (Renfield from the original book being one). Because of this, this adaptation feels leaner, less cluttered and really gets to the heart of the action. There is never a dull moment here, it really is no filler, all killer (pun not intended).

I feel like this adaptation is a great place to start in terms of cinematic vampires as it effortlessly establishes the conventions of the novel and also of the vampire genre in general ie wooden stakes, sunlight, and crucifixes. This would be done very differently these days in a modern production.


I actually think this version of Dracula is the best, not just made by Hammer Studios but by anyone (yes, that includes you, Francis Ford Coppola). Christopher Lee will always be the definitive Dracula, a masterful blend of charisma, menace and, this was something that Lee made sure he explicitly depicted in his performance, sexual magnetism. It is shown that some of the female victims of Lee’s Dracula are more than willing to have someone as good-looking, sexy and magnetic as him enter their room in the dead of night, cape flapping and have his dreadful way with them.


Peter Cushing is just as brilliant as Van Helsing and is the perfect foil to Lee’s career-defining performance. In fact, the entire cast turn in impressive performances and it isn’t a case of any other characters being left in the shade by Lee. Everyone holds their own when it comes to the acting.


The photography and direction are also amazing. Every frame looks like it’s been painted and the colour palate is absolutely beautiful and a joy to behold. Terence Fisher would become synonymous with this as every one of his films is known for its richness and visual beauty.

The climactic scene in which Dracula is bathed in sunlight and dies because of this has aged incredibly well. Dracula looks like he is turning to ash and it’s a strangely beautiful scene to watch.

This is my favourite Dracula film and one of my all-time favourite vampire films along with Nosferatu, George A Romero’s Martin and Near Dark. All are peerless.

5 stars out of 5

Review- Beat Girl (1959)

Review- Beat Girl (1959)

Teenage spoilt brat Jennifer doesn’t like his father’s new French wife, Nichole. Jennifer is involved in the new ‘Beat’ scene in London and feels completely alienated, bored and like anyone older than her is ‘square’. Through a strange coincidence, Jennifer learns that her new stepmother used to strip in Paris which leads Jennifer to venture inside Christopher Lee’s creepy and forbidden strip club which is situated opposite the Kensington cafe bar she frequents.


Beat Girl works on several different levels. On one level, it’s one of the ‘new youth cult’ films that were made to cater to the new youth culture that was emerging and also to scare the pants off any older viewers who were probably reading with horror the moral panics being whipped up by the tabloid media of the day regarding these shocking new teenage cults. As a testament to this, Beat Girl ran into problems with the censorship board, The British Board of Film Classification. The person who classified the film called it ‘machine-made dirt’ and said that it was ‘the worst script I have read for some years’. When it was submitted it had the much more shocking title of ‘Striptease Girl’ and was hastily renamed to Beat Girl to try to avoid any more controversy. Whilst the film was released eventually with an X certificate, the board objected to the scenes of exotic dancing, the scene in which the teens play chicken and place their heads on railway tracks as a train is approaching (Beat Girl was named Wild For Kicks in the US when it was released) and the general tone of juvenile delinquency. Some prints are actually missing these scenes.


On another level, this is a ‘pop star’ film. These types of movies were popular in the 50s and onwards in which a popular singer would bolster a cast and might sing a few numbers within the course of the movie. Beat Girl features Adam Faith and he does sing a few songs but this isn’t exclusively a vehicle just for him. There is much more going on. And some of that is very dark indeed for a film of this ilk.

Christopher Lee’s sleazy underworld owner of his sleazy underworld strip joint is a fantastic ingredient of the film. His character provides a layer of darkness within the movie that truly makes it feel dangerous and a lot darker. This type of character and this side of London hadn’t been depicted on celluloid many times before this time. We had never seen inside a strip joint (Les Girls actually seems quite a classy joint in the film) in a British film before this. This excursion is most welcome.


Add to this the exotic dance routine we see (it’s still quite risque) and the fantastic soundtrack by the John Barry Seven (yes, that John Barry did the music and it’s fantastic) and you have a cult curio film that still stands up and is a fantastic piece of cult cinema. As Shirley Ann Fields would say it’s ‘over and out!’

4 stars out of 5

Review- Yield to the Night (1956)

Review- Yield to the Night (1956)

Yield to the Night finds the character of Mary Price Hilton shoot her boyfriend’s lover and then spending her time in prison awaiting her execution by hanging. Her story is told in flashback during this stay.


On the 7th day God created Diana Dors. From her TV appearances on The Two Ronnies (playing the head of a female army who wish to take over and make all men subservient) through to her appearance in the Adam and the Ants video for Prince Charming, Ms Dors was a regular part of my childhood.

I then discovered the TV series of Queenie’s Castle from the 70’s (filmed here in Leeds) which fully exuded Dors’ abilities as a great actress.

Yield to the Night was the only worthwhile foray into film for Diana with subsequent vehicles being a complete waste of her talents. This film is amazing. The flashback sequences which show how a sultry goddess could be driven to murder are fully rounded, believable and achingly painful. As are the sequences in which she is in captivity. Check out the internal monologues we’re privileged to partake in and how she is far from a blonde bimbo. These observations about her plight and her fate are reminiscent of Travis Bickle’s musings in Taxi Driver.


A strong case is made for the brutality of capital punishment in a ‘civilised’ society and how wrong it is. Thankfully since the film’s release this has now been rectified. You will think of this film when someone comments ‘They should bring back hanging’ in response to a news story.

4/5 out of 5 stars

Review- ‘On The Waterfront’ (1954)

Review- ‘On The Waterfront’ (1954)

A young ex-boxer and a priest team up with the sister of a victim of the local mob to find out who killed her brother and try to stop the mob from unfairly controlling all of the work and wages that should be going to the dockers in the area.

This is one of those films that everyone says is a classic but I hadn’t got round to seeing. All I can say is- the people who say this is a classic are undervaluing the film greatly. I knew as I was watching this that one of my favourite films that I hadn’t even seen for the first time from start to finish yet was unfurling before my very eyes.

Karl Malden, Eve Marie Saint and Lee J Cobb are all remarkable.


But then theres Marlon Brando. One still of him from this movie, any still of him from this movie is worth a million Monets. The fact that he went into acting and the movies specifically is a wonder. To see his face, his expressions, everything about him in this film projected onto a huge cinema screen reminded me why I love the movies. Flawless.

5 out of 5. A masterpiece.