Movie travel destinations

December 12, 2007

Are you a set-jetter? And nope, I didn’t write that wrong. With the seemingly endless need these days for one-word sound bites and catchphrases – the interminable celebrity “blended name” phenomenon (wasn’t that supposed to burn out, like, 2 years ago?) and the constant barrage of new e-words like bacn (hint: it’s not spam) – there is even a cute little term for film tourism: set-jetting. Like jet-setting, but, you know, backwards, where “set” refers to a film set, and jet … well, you probably got all that long, long ago. It’s people who travel to visit places where movies were shot or take place, okay?

Um, anyway, if you are a set jetter, or one of your Christmas gift recipients is and that DVD package just won’t cut it this year (if they have the original release and the collector’s edition of that DVD, they probably don’t need the ultimate director’s cut special edition in a collectible painted tin as well, but that’s just a hunch), there are plenty of great destinations for you to try out.

Of course, one option is to just travel to famous film locations like New York, Paris, London, and so on, and see the sights yourself. Apparently, UK’s film board is hoping that many people think that way after this movie holiday season and will want to soon set-jet off to see the locations prominently displayed in new films like The Golden Compass and upcomers like the new James Bond and The Dark Knight.

Here are some fun film location activities you can do on your own:

The real “Hogwarts Express” in Scotland

Hogwarts Express (Harry Potter) – aka, the Jacobite Steam Train, Scotland
Pictured above.
(Approx. £29 round trip for an adult, second class. Less than 6 hrs round trip. For dates of operation, fares, timetables, and more, click here.)

I’m very excited, because I’ve actually done this one and can, you know, speak from experience, which is always a bonus. Steaming its way from the small Highland town of Ft. William in Western Scotland to the very small port village of Mallaig (try the Smoked Haddock Soup at one of the seafood restaurants during your 2 hr break in the town; trust me, it’s worth it), and then back, the Jacobite Steam Train and its route were both used in the Harry Potter films as subs for the gleaming Hogwarts Express and its journey to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Sadly, the interior is not quite Hogwarts material – and no magical candy cart! the indignity… – but the scenery on the ride is spectacular, and when else are you ever going to ride on a true steam train?

Bonus: Ft. William sits right next to the beautiful Glen Nevis, a location featured in Braveheart and also Harry Potter, among other films.

Cinderella’s palace (Ever After) – aka, Château Hautefort, France
Pictured below.
(Entrance fee is €8.50 for an adult. Click here for hours, directions and other information.)

Okay, while it’s not Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany or the (supposed Sleeping Beauty inspiration) Château d’Ussé in France, both of which helped inspire Disney’s original animated Cinderella, it does have the unique distinction of being the home of Drew Barrymore’s Prince Charming (Dougray Scott) in Ever After. Complete with drawbridge and turrets, the exterior and interior of Château Hautefort were used in many scenes in the film (that cool beamed room where Leo da Vinci paints? actually in the castle itself).

Not to mention the fact that it’s located in the gorgeous rolling hills and fields of the Périgord, kind of a lesser-known version of Provence if you will. Since it seems as if Périgord literally has a castle on every hill top, make sure to leave some time to see more than one, particularly the towering Beynac (a darn cool fortress built in the 12th century that was also used in Ever After) and the cute little village (used in Chocolat) that sits below the castle and along the Dordogne river. The Périgord area also has some pretty impressive caves (with cave drawings!), including Lascaux (or its replication anyway; the original is closed off to tourists, but the replication is startlingly authentic, minus that rubbery-style plastic floor, of course) and my personal favorite, Padirac (ever want to feel like you’re in that mythical boat that goes across the river Styx? now’s your chance!).

If you like this castle, you may definitely want to consider looking up Chatsworth in England, the Pemberley in Keira Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice (and rumored to be the inspiration for the original Darcy abode in the classic Austen novel). For a complete Pride and Prejudice movie tour in England, check out this tour provided by British tours. And if you happen to be in India and have some free time, you might want to look up the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which was featured prominently in Bride and Prejudice (title similarity to Austen novel definitely not coincidental).

The Beach (The Beach) – aka, Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand
(I have no idea. Maybe Wikitravel knows?)

Enough with the cold places, I think. And for this one, I think I’ll let it speak for itself. Or rather, the pictures speak for themselves. It was the location of The Beach after all.

And I would recommend the so-called James Bond Island (from Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun), otherwise known as Khao Phing Kan, while you’re in Thailand, but I think that one may have already succumbed to mass set-jetting (i.e., tourism overload disorder).

Also check out other beautiful film locations, such as Malta and Tenerife, in Expedia UK’s Top ten film set locations list.

◊ ◊ Budget Travel does an excellent real world breakdown of various film spots and moments (including restaurants, shops, streets, mansions, trains, etc.) from 10 different movies released in ’07, such as The Bourne Ultimatum, Atonement and even Ratatouille (the more people-size side of things, though).

◊ ◊ At Ripple Effects: also make sure to check out Arti’s own beautiful photos of famous film locations like Petra (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade but without the Holy Grail), Lacock (Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice miniseries – remember Meryton?) and Bath (Austen again). Scroll down for the Petra photos, which are definitely a not-miss.

Chateau Hautefort

♦ ♦ ♦

But let’s be honest, why go to all that effort when someone can just do all that troublesome “finding” and “researching” work for you? Here are some organized tours that will take you through everything you want to see. And yes, I know the distinction between some of these and the items in the previous list may be a bit hazy, but what can I say, I like living on the edge.

Lord of the Rings – New Zealand

With the success of the epic trilogy, let’s just say it’s highly unsurprising (bordering on dull) that many New Zealand tour grips have developed their own specialized tours that guide your through the various (and quite breathtaking) sites used in Peter Jackson’s fantasy films. Activities could include everything from simply viewing the valley of Helms Deep to rafting the Anduin.

Here are a bunch of options. Costs, naturally, vary widely by trip and the trips last anywhere from half a day to over 2 weeks (for the truly dedicated fans, I’m guessing).

All things Dracula – Transylvania

Because nothing says “vacation” like a ritual killing of the living dead. Yep, that – along with a viewing of “Dracula’s castle,” a stop at Vlad the Impaler’s citadel and the consumption of something called a “Vampire dinner” (totally benign, I’m sure, this is Transylvania after all) – is included in Transylvania Live’s well-known Vampire in Transylvania: Dracula tour. Don’t worry, I’m, say, 86.5% sure that the ritual killing isn’t real.

Price is generally €1390 per person for a 7 day / 6 night trip (meals, entry fees, etc. included).

Steep? Well, good news, the site declares that the whole trip is available for free if:

You don’t have a reflection in the mirror,
You decompose when sun light strikes you,
You’re over 200 years old,
Can use your wings to fly to Transylvania,
[…] Come join your fellow vampires in Transylvania.
Blood treats not included

Transylvania Express (a railway tour company) also offers 4 and 5 day Dracula trips starting at €945 / €1994. They also offer special Dracula trips for groups.

Pirates of the Caribbean – Dominica, in the Caribbean Sea (appropriately enough)

I know what you’re thinking. Pirates? Really? Isn’t it time that someone finally pays attention to this film trilogy? Well, fortunately, at least the Tamarind Tree Hotel and Restaurant on the Caribbean isle of Dominica agrees with you! They’ve thought ahead of the curve to design a 7-day package that takes you to all those Depp-graced spots on the island.

For 2007-2008 rates and other information, click here.

Don’t want to stop there? Check out about.com’s look at some of the other Caribbean locales used in the Pirates film shoot.

… and much, much more – New York, San Francisco, Philly, and D.C.

Come to New York and you see a movie scene around every corner – isn’t that where Sally ate her (extremely) good sandwich? or where Sara ate her slightly-less-than serendipitous frozen hot chocolate? And sure, you can visit Katz’s Deli and Serendipity 3 yourself (and, well, brave the waits yourself as well – expect about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour wait at Serendipity on the weekends if you haven’t reserved, a little less if you have), but why not have a tour company take you to all the other sights you might not think of?

On Location Tours provides approx. 2 to 4 hour tours of movie (and TV) spots in the Big Apple (and Washington DC), with tours that specialize in everything from Sex and the City to just Central Park, for about $15 to $40 per person.

Washington Walks offers a Bus, Camera, Action! Reel Washington 3 hr tour for $30 of the national capital’s big movie spots, such as those seen in All the President’s Men and The Exorcist.

Not to be left out, San Francisco has its own handy tours, including these two Hitchcock-inspired tours (because what trip can really be fun without getting totally spooked out?) that guide you through those eerie (or they will be) sights from Vertigo and The Birds (which includes a Shadow of a Doubt sighting as well).

Also, while this is totally unguided (I know, I know, but this tour fits in so well in this section!), tourism organizations in Philadelphia and DC have banded together to produce a National Treasure guide to the two political capitals.

And for more of a fun list of sights in NY and the movies shot there (from the Central Park reservoir and Times Square to those oh-so-realistic, palatial Manhattan apartments – and just because you’re on TV, don’t think we’re not looking at you, Monica Gellar!), click here. For movie location mistakes in NY (that’s the NY subway??), and other cities, click here.

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The case for “Dial M for Murder”

November 7, 2007

It’s no secret that Alfred Hitchcock is the master of suspense. And really, anyone who can make a flock of birds, a shower, and even a bouquet of flowers absolutely terrifying, for many, many years, is clearly not someone to be trifled with. Of course, what Hitchcock is most known for is his complex, often dizzying, psychological thrills of horror (or at least some sort of terror), such as Psycho, Rear Window, or Vertigo – plus North by Northwest, certainly dizzying in its own right but not really “scary,” although it’s possible that some people may have nightmares about being chased in endless corn fields, I can’t really say.

Nevertheless, sometimes his other films get left behind, Dial M for Murder among them. Certainly a famous title, and yes, it was remade as (the critically disliked: 55% on Rotten Tomatoes – ouch!) A Perfect Murder in 1998, but not often listed among his true classics. In fact, upon its release, Variety said in a review that:

Dial M remains more of a filmed play [the movie is based on a stage play by Frederick Knott] than a motion picture, unfortunately revealed as a conversation piece about murder which talks up much more suspense than it actually delivers… There are a number of basic weaknesses in the setup that keep the picture from being a good suspense show for any but the most gullible.

If that is the case, then, well, I’m not afraid to admit that I do in fact believe that gullible isn’t in the dictionary, finding the film made up more of the “elegant coils of murder drama,” as the New York Times said in its 1954 review, than drooping waves of lackluster suspense.

In fact, in today’s Lost age of hyper-convoluted stories, and seriously overwhelming numbers of characters and plot lines (Wait, what happened in Syriana again? And I really have no idea what happened in The Number 23 – see Cracked’s article), it’s soothing, in a Zen sort of way, to watch a well-acted, well-thought out, basically bloodless, complicated but not labyrinthine, and just plain enjoyable movie of edge-of-your-seat suspense. Think Law and Order: Criminal Intent via Sherlock Holmes and Murder on the Orient Express, but with less detective and more murderer.

Taking place for the most part in just one apartment (it was based on a play after all), the film tells the story of, as I say in the Hitchcock cheat sheet:

[…an] ex-tennis player Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) and his extremely carefully planned plot to kill his wife, wealthy Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly), for her money and because of an old (now ended) affair with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men…

And to be completely honest, I literally was on the edge of my seat during much of its hour and 45 minute run. My friends even started bouncing up and down in their chairs (whether or not they would admit it later on) in the excruciatingly anticipatory climax – where all the different moments and setups lock thrillingly into place. Like Ocean’s Eleven and The Sting, it has the very satisfying adrenaline rush from plans gone very well (and very awry). True, it’s not Ocean’s Eleven in the sense that there’s no glitz and glamor here (apart from Grace Kelly, of course, who brings, well, grace with her wherever she goes), no Las Vegas lights, and it’s all talk and not much dramatic action. But, as anyone can tell you who’s heard Verbal Kint speak, talk can be a powerful and riveting tool in the story of a criminal.

So if you like elegant murder mysteries with evolving dénouements, then get some popcorn now and watch one of Hitchcock’s best, without having to turn on all the lights.

As Hitchcock once famously said, “As you have seen on the screen, the best way to do it is with a scissor.”

(Trust me, that’ll be meaningful once you watch the film.)

Click here to go to CNN’s nice little “Celebration of Alfred Hitchcock” article. And here to go to the Alfred Hitchcock cheat sheet, which covers all of his classics.


Famous movie locations that aren’t Paris or New York

November 2, 2007

Does it sometimes seem as if every big city in the movies is New York and every romantic destination Paris? Well… they are. (Hmm, I’m not entirely sure that makes total grammatical sense, but ah well. You get the point, hopefully.) According to an article in The Observer, Paris and New York have achieved such “overlord” location status on the big screen that most filmgoers feel as if they’ve been there (at some point, haven’t we? or have I just seen National Lampoon’s European Vacation too many times?), even if that is unfortunately not always the case. On the other hand, though, movie Paris = no customs! Tough call, really.

However, New York and Paris don’t have all the big screen fun, and there are other locations, sometimes forgotten in the glow of the, ah, terrible two, that have achieved a sort of mythical status as well. They too have celluloid alter egos, or impressions of the city created from a jumble of film recollections and real world experiences. These locations certainly also deserve a place in the sun – for better or, perhaps more often than is admitted, for worse.

Here are a few of these alternative location stars:

Vienna

Before Sunrise (Vienna)

Well before they awkwardly greeted each other in Paris, Jesse and Celine memorably walked the streets of Vienna in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, forever establishing Austria’s capital as the place for soulmate-at-first-site hopefuls. Hey, Ethan Hawke’s gotta sit down across from you on that train eventually, right? Vienna, and particularly its famous ferris wheel, the Reisenrad, was also featured in the Orson Welles noir classic, The Third Man, which takes place in Vienna right after World War II. You’ll never look down from the top of a ferris wheel in the same way again.

Another Vienna classic: Amadeus, about Mozart and Salieri.

Trivia: The battle fought at the beginning of the film Gladiator is mentioned as taking place at Vindobona, which is actually the early name for Vienna. It has, you know, expanded a bit since then.

For other films that take place in and around Vienna, check out this nice little review by Dustin Penn here.

The Australian Outback

Mad Max

From Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Dish, to Crocodile Dundee and the post-apocalyptic Mad Max, to my own mother’s obsessively favorite films A Town Like Alice and My Brilliant Career, Australia’s Outback seems to be a source of endless fascination for both filmmakers and filmgoers. What really goes on out there in all that space? We don’t really know, but it must be something mysterious and exciting and, of course, intriguingly rugged.

Trivia: Crocodile Dundee is the most successful Australian movie ever. I guess all I can say is… wow.

For an interesting look at the Outback’s connection to the horror movie genre, click here. Let’s just say it’s called “Things that go bump in the outback” – make of that what you will.

San Francisco

Vertigo

Sure, filmmakers have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with the New York skyline, but those sloping streets and red bridge towers have inspired their own impressive number of classic films and made San Francisco’s unique cityscape internationally admired. Really, the city has almost too many classic scenes. Scottie saving Madeleine from the waters below the Golden Gate Bridge in Vertigo. Dirty Harry finding evidence to a murder on the city’s rooftops in Dirty Harry. Benjamin Braddock driving across the Bay Bridge (the wrong way, but in any case) in The Graduate, a bridge that also appears in The Maltese Falcon. For a more contemporary scene, there’s Mia, who crashes her car into a trolley in The Princess Diaries. And, of course, not forgetting Steve McQueen’s very famous car chase through the city’s streets in Bullitt.

San Fran fun: And you thought San Francisco’s hills were just for exercise (and really frustrating bike rides), check out what else someone did with those gentle slopes.

For a more complete list of movies set in this California town, click here.

Tokyo

Lost in Translation

There’s just something so indescribably exotic about a city that is both very much like a city near you and at the same time entirely different. With its bright lights, bright colors, bright pop culture, and seemingly limitless supply of population (see trivia below), Tokyo appears to be the perfect setting in which to be both completely surrounded and entirely alone. It’s the city where Charlotte and Bob had a fleeting connection in Lost in Translation and where people struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic future (Akira), but also where James Bond (You Only Live Twice) and his modern counterpart Austin Powers (in Goldmember) both encounter, you guessed it, sumo wrestling. And, uh, there’s that Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift movie as well – of course.

Trivia: Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the entire world. With well over 30 million people (for some perspective: the New York City metropolitan area has about 18 million – more than 10 million less), you can certainly understand how that would be.

Antarctica and the Arctic Circle

March of the Penguins

Okay, I can probably guess what you’re thinking right now: great, more penguins. (and, well, I have a huge picture of them right above this, so why wouldn’t you be?) But really, what you should be thinking is: action and horror. I don’t know if it’s the treacherous ice, low likelihood of survival, lengthy hours of darkness, or those polar bears (because you know they mean business), or all of the above, but the arctic ice is accumulating quite the impressive collection of action/horror films: The Transformers, 30 Days of Night (it’s in Alaska, but north of the Arctic Circle, so I’m gonna go ahead and count it), Alien vs. Predator, National Treasure, The Thing, The Thing from Another World, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Siberia, close enough). And then, yes, not to forget of course Happy Feet, March of the Penguins, Arctic Tale, The Endurance, and Eight Below (and thus also Nankyoku Monogatari). Plus Insomnia (both versions).

Trivia: One of the original horror classics of literature actually began in the Arctic Circle – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Cairo

Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood

If you’re looking for exotic mystery in a film, Cairo seems to have it in spades. And how could it not? Considering its association with over three thousand years of ancient Egyptian civilization, Cairo is quite hard to beat as a movie location. Naturally, you’ve got your obligatory pseudo-Egyptian myth horror (The Mummy), other mythologically- inspired action (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), tourism (Death on the Nile), and just plain action (The Spy Who Loved Me). In other words, if you’re looking for an otherworldly adventure complete with historic mystique, celluloid Cairo is where you want to be.

Cairo fun: If you like what they did in that San Francisco video, see what happens when they take on the pyramids.

Transylvania

Nosferatu

Well, you can’t say that film has been easy on poor, much maligned Transylvania. For many long years, Transylvania has had to suffer numerous indignities as the place inextricably intertwined with vampires and most anything gloomy and weird (that is somehow associated with darkness and rain, in any way at all). At least they pretty much know who to blame: Bram Stoker, who decided to have his Dracula live there (despite the fact that Dracula’s inspiration, Vlad the Impaler, actually ruled over nearby Walachia, which got off easy, all things considered). Transylvania, a region in Romania, is, I’m sure, a perfectly lovely area with many attractive medieval ruins, but sadly, this image was not meant to be. Instead, it’s the spooky, rainy, shadowy, depressing, crumbling, seriously weird, and, let’s just say it, eeeevil location of Nosferatu, Young Frankenstein (and Mary Shelley’s monster wasn’t even originally, um, “born” in Transylvania), Van Helsing, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, even The Rocky Horror Picture Show (technically).

What does the real Transylvania actually look like? Check out some Flickr photos here to see. And check out the official tourism office here.

Another location with quite unfortunate film credentials? Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Apart from its seriously depressing depiction in Euro Trip, it stars in, of all things, Hostel. I think that pretty much says it all.

And, of course… London

28 Days Later

Not just the setting of one of my favorite comedy moments in film (Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!), and thus also infernally frustrating roundabouts, London has been the setting of countless classics and, well, not-so-classics, as well as more than its fair share of apocalyptic/future films (28 Days Later, Children of Men, V for Vendetta), which is, needless to say… interesting. Although New York has faired no better, if we’re being honest (that poor Statue of Liberty, she’s been crushed by a tidal wave, destroyed by apes, buried in ice, animated by slime, used as a mutant-creating weapon and a mind wiping device, etc. etc.). The British capital, or rather, its buses, are also fantasy favorites (The Mummy Returns, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). And naturally, you can’t have a timeless city without an endless number of romantic comedies (Notting Hill, Bridget Jones, Love Actually, The Holiday). In short, the big screen London has got something for everyone.


Alfred Hitchcock cheat sheet

September 25, 2007

Sure, you know he’s famous, and you know his name is associated with some movie involving a shower, a knife and a crazy guy in a motel, but what else do you really know about Alfred Hitchcock and his movies?

And so Buttercups and Ravenwood presents… Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Bitty bio: Actually born before the turn of the century (1899), Alfred Hitchcock truly witnessed the entire evolution of cinema – from silent films, to talking black and white, to color. The British son of a Roman Catholic greengrocer, he first entered the film industry through art design and directed his first complete film in 1925, the commercial flop, The Pleasure Garden. He then went on to direct (and produce) more than 60 feature films. He also appeared in uncredited roles in many of his own films and ran a successful television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents / The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (remember that silhouette?), for a decade.

As a classic director, he naturally never won an Academy Award for Best Director, although his film Rebecca did win the Oscar for Best Picture (he did not produce that film and thus, did not get the Oscar for it). He did, however, get that popular consolation prize, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, from the Academy for his efforts in 1968. He died in 1980. And by the way, that’s Sir Alfred Hitchcock to you.

Here (what I believe anyway) are his most classic and/or famous films, in chronological order:

For those who want to keep the ending a mystery…

The Man Who Knew Too Much – And you thought the title of that Bill Murray film was just a clever invention. This 1934 film (remade in 1956 by Hitchcock himself and with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day starring) concerns a vacationing couple (Bob and Jill) who are passed valuable information about an assassination plot from a dying spy. To prevent the couple from revealing what they know about the plot, the people behind it kidnap the couple’s daughter, Betty. The movie follows the couple’s attempts to get her back.

The 39 Steps – Based on a novel by John Buchanan, this is a classic tale from 1935 of espionage and an innocent man on the run from the law (no, not “The Fugitive”). It involves a Canadian man (Richard Hannay, played by Robert Donat), essentially an innocent bystander, who is swept up in a world of spies and assassins after witnessing a fight at a London theater. He is accused of killing Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim), a spy who was murdered while she was in his apartment, but not before she told him of an organisation called “The 39 Steps” that was out to get her.

Rebecca – Starring Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the new Mrs. de Winter, this 1940 adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel tells the story of a young woman who meets and soon marries the rich Maxim de Winter only to find his house haunted (figuratively but perhaps also literally) by the spirit of his late wife, Rebecca. The housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, in particular, loved Rebecca and does everything in her power to make Mrs. de Winter feel unwanted and, essentially, to drive her mad. As noted above, it won Best Picture (and Best Cinematography).

Shadow of a Doubt – Supposedly Hitchcock’s own favorite, this film noir from 1943 concerns Charlie Newton (short for Charlotte), played by Teresa Wright, who receives a visit from her favorite Uncle, Charlie Oakley (short for Charles), played by Joseph Cotton. After a detective reveals that her uncle is a suspected serial killer (the ominous-sounding “Merry Widow Murderer”), Charlie begins to become suspicious of her uncle’s increasingly condemning behavior.

Notorious – From 1946, this dark romance / spy film starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains concerns the wild daughter of a German spy (Bergman as Alicia Huberman) who is asked by a government agent (Grant as T.R. Devlin) to spy on her father’s Nazi friends in Brazil. Alicia falls in love with Devlin, but he needs her to marry one of the Nazis, Alex Sebastian (Rains). Agony ensues.

Strangers on a Train – Not just a CSI episode, this 1951 film (yet another literary adaptation, this time from Patricia Highsmith) tells of two, uh, strangers who meet on a (you guessed it!) train and discuss murder. Guy Haines (Farley Granger) will murder the father of Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) and Antony will murder Haines’s unwanted and unfaithful wife, thereby allowing them both to committ murder without getting caught (because neither one actually has a connection to their respective victims, get it?). Haines thinks it was just “idle” talk (yes, I can see how he would make that mistake…), but then his wife is murdered. Hmm.

Dial M for Murder – From 1954 and based on a play, this tale of suspense concerns ex-tennis player Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) and his extremely carefully planned plot to kill his wife, wealthy Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly), for her money and because of an old (now ended) affair with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men… The movie was remade in 1998 as A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen (pre-Lord of the Rings, Mortensen actually also appeared in a remake of Psycho with Vince Vaughn later that same year).

Rear Window – The classic voyeur film, this 1954 movie (yes, based on a short story) stars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. While spying on his neighbors, Stewart as photographer Jeff (stuck in a room due to a broken leg) begins to think that a murder has occurred in one of the neighboring buildings. Kelly plays Jeff’s girlfriend, the model Lisa. For you trivia/remake people, this movie was remade in 1998 with Christopher Reeve as the friendly neighborhood peeping tom, and also inspired 2007’s Disturbia starring Shia LaBoeuf.

To Catch a Thief – Pretty light-hearted for a Hitchcock film, this romantic intrigue from 1955 is set on the French Riviera and deals with an ex-jewel thief, John “the Cat” Robie (Cary Grant), who doesn’t want to get blamed for a recent string of jewel thefts. To catch the actual culprit, he gets to know the people he suspects are the next victims, wealthy Jessie Stevens and her (surprise!) beautiful daughter Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly).

Alfred Hitchcock Presents… – Arguably one of the things Hitchcock is most famous for, the opening credits of this long-running show (the silhouette, the music, the somber “Good evening”) are iconic. Starting in 1955, the show was renamed The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962 and extended to a full hour. It ended in 1965 (but lives on through iTunes!). Each episode was a different story of mystery or drama, and featured many famous (or soon-to-be-famous) guest stars, such as Dick Van Dyke, Bette Davis, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford (who just loves his classic mystery TV shows with famous opening sequences by the show’s creator – he also had a main role in an episode of The Twilight Zone a year later), and yes, William Shatner. You can listen to the show’s theme music, Funeral March of a Marionette, by playing the video below.

Vertigo – A head trip of a movie, this 1958 thriller with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak tells of retired, and acrophobic (really, really afraid of heights – in other words, someone who has height “vertigo”), detective John “Scottie” Ferguson and the favor he does for an old college friend, Gavin Elster. Elster believes that his wife Madeleine is possessed by the spirit of her dead great-grandmother, Carlotta Valdes, (yes, you heard right) and asks Scottie to follow Madeleine to confirm his suspicions. Scottie does, but gets a little too involved in this case. If you know what I mean. Which I’m sure you do.

North by Northwest – You’ve probably all seen that scene of a guy running from a low-flying plane through a corn field at some point or another (or you’ve seen one of the many imitations of it). Well, that scene is from this iconic 1959 thriller starring Cary Grant as ad exec Roger Thornhill and Eva Marie Saint as the mysterious Eve Kendall (trivia: Saint won an Academy Award for her role in On the Waterfront and, yep, that was her as Martha Kent in Superman Returns). As a suspense thriller, this movie naturally has many twists and turns, but essentially it tells the story of Thornhill and his unfortunate escapades after being mistaken for government agent George Kaplan. Thornhill travels all across the country, pursued by policemen (who believe he has murdered someone), in an effort to find the real George Kaplan.

Psycho – Showing the lengths to which someone will go to win the coveted “Best Costume” award, someone actually dressed up as the “Shower Scene” from this classic Hitchcock horror film at a Halloween costume party I attended. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that fake blood, a shower curtain and a skin-colored body suit were involved. Although you may not have seen the film, almost everyone has heard of the fateful (and fatal) meeting between the owner of the Bates motel, Norman Bates as portrayed by Anthony Perkins, and Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane. This 1960 film was, naturally, based on a Robert Bloch novel, who actually based his own work on the real life of Ed Gein, a serial killer. The movie follows the investigation into the mysterious circumstances behind Marion’s and other disappearances at the Bates Motel.

The Birds – Continuing on his horror streak, this 1963 film is another (albeit loose) adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier story (see Rebecca for the other). Rich Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) encounters attorney Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) at a pet shop – they’re both, surprise surprise, buying birds – and ends up following him to his family home on the coast. Soon, the small town is being viciously attacked by flocks of birds. Trust me, it’s scarier than it sounds.

For a complete list of Hitchcock’s many titles, go to IMDB.com.

Alfred Hitchcock

SPOILER ALERT

SPOILER ALERT

…and those who don’t.

The Man Who Knew Too Much – (1934) The assassination attempt (of a diplomat, as it turns out) at Albert Hall in London is prevented by Jill, who screams, thereby distracting the shooter. The shooter escapes to his hideout, but is followed by the police, who lay siege to the place in a gunfight modeled on a real gun battle in London in 1911. Jill, an excellent shooter, kills one of the kidnappers holding Betty, the police breach the building, and Betty is saved.

The 39 Steps – Hannay, after a cross-country chase, ends up back at the same London theater watching the same show with Pamela, a woman he met while on the run (she doesn’t want to be with him and betrays him repeatedly to the police). He discovers that the man headlining the show (“Mr. Memory”) is actually part of the “39 Steps” organization, and gets him to reveal what the organization is and what their plans are (building a silent aircraft). One of the men behind the organization, Jordan, shoots Mr. Memory and tries to escape, unsuccessfully.

Rebecca – Maxim de Winter tells the story of the “real” Rebecca, a manipulative and unfaithful wife whom he did not love. Telling de Winter she was pregnant with someone else’s child, he wanted to kill her, but she fell and hit her head, dying by accident instead. Later it is discovered that she was not pregnant, but instead had learned she had cancer and wanted to provoke de Winter into killing her. After learning about Rebecca’s illness and that de Winter and his wife will be returning to the house, Mrs. Danvers sets fire to the mansion. The last shot is of the mansion, with the married couple outside and safe, being burned to the ground.

Shadow of a Doubt – Uncle Charlie is the serial killer. He attempts to kill his niece several times, eventually trying to throw her from a train bound for San Francisco. They fight, and Uncle Charlie is the one who falls off the train and dies under the wheels of a train coming from the other direction.

Notorious – Sebastian finds out about Alicia and gradually begins to poison her. However, Devlin discovers what he is doing and takes Alicia out of Sebastian’s house, warning him about what will happen if Sebastian’s friends find out what was going on (Alicia a spy and so on). As Devlin takes Alicia away, Sebastian is left to his fate at his friends’ hands, who would not hesitate to harm him.

Strangers on a Train – Antony stalks Haines, incessantly reminding him to keep up his part of the bargain. Eventually, Antony confides what’s going on to Anne, the woman he loves, as Antony tries to turn the police onto Haines as the murderer of his wife. In the end, Antony and Haines struggle and Antony dies, crushed by a merry-go-round. However, in his hand is a lighter, a piece of evidence that implicates him in the murder of Haines’s wife. The last scene is Anne and Haines on a train together, walking away from a stranger who is attempting to make conversation.

Dial M for Murder – Margot manages to kill Swan, the attacker hired by Tony, by stabbing him with scissors. To cover everything up, Tony then tries to make it look like Margot planned to kill Swan, rather than killing him in self-defense. However, the inspector on their case (Hubbard) discovers that Tony is the one behind it all when Tony accidentally reveals that he knows the hiding place of the key Swan used to get into the apartment.

Rear Window – Jeff was right and he did see a murder. The murderer throws Jeff out the window, attempting to kill him, and is then arrested by the police. Jeff doesn’t die, but breaks both of his legs, and lives happily ever after (or so I assume, but this is Hitchcock after all) with Lisa.

To Catch a Thief – Yes, John “catches the thief,” a young girl named Danielle. John is cleared and ends up together with Frances at his vineyards in the south of France.

Vertigo – Madeleine commits suicide from a bell tower and dies. Scottie tries to save her but can’t, due to his vertigo. Scottie goes into despair, and eventually becomes obsessed with a woman, Judy, who looks just like Madeleine. However, it is revealed that it was all a scam – Judy was actually hired by Gavin to pretend to be his wife and convince an esteemed detective, Scottie, that she was possessed and had committed suicide (when in fact, Gavin pushed the real Madeleine from the tower), so that Gavin could literally get away with murder. Scottie confronts Judy with the truth at the bell tower itself, and frightened by the appearance of a third person at the top of the tower (who turns out to be a nun), Judy stumbles and falls to her death. Scottie looks down at her body, his vertigo now gone.

North by Northwest – Oh dear. It’s very complicated. Essentially, Eve (revealed to be the bad guy’s girlfriend and then revealed again, this time for real!, to be a government agent) helps Thornhill get national secrets away from the bad guys. There is a struggle on Mt. Rushmore, the police shoot the bad guy, Thornhill saves Eve’s life, and they end up together.

Psycho – Although the murders seem to have been committed by Bates’s mother, it is revealed in a famous twist that it is in fact Bates, dressed up as his mother, who has committed them. His mother, whom he murdered, is now a preserved corpse in his basement. Nice and creepy, right? The movie ends with Bates in a prison cell, now totally crazy (as if he wasn’t already crazy enough).

The Birds – After several deaths, panick ensues. Mitch, Melanie, Mitch’s sister Cathy, and his mother Lydia board themselves up in a house and survive a massive bird attack, but Melanie is severely injured after they think the attack has ended. Mitch, Cathy and Lydia drive Melanie to the hospital, surrounded by a sea of birds. The birds do not attack and they drive off safely.


Quotes

September 21, 2007

Vertigo

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.”

For more on Vertigo, check out the Alfred Hitchcock cheat sheet.