Playlist: 3 New Hollywood Films by Old Hollywood Filmmakers

November 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

1. FRENZY (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)

Alfred Hitchcock had always achieved some of his greatest effects through ellipsis and indirect suggestion, the slightly askew angling of his camera or a choice close-up of an everyday object telling us more than any head-on dramatization of his unseemly themes ever could. It wasn’t until Frenzy in 1972 that this most lascivious of directors had the chance to work free of Hollywood’s usual content restraints, but for all the movie’s grisliness, it never quite overindulges itself. A meticulously constructed installment in the master’s long-running series of ‘man on the run’ thrillers starring Jon Finch and Anna Massey, Frenzy’s most shocking murder takes place off-screen, signaled by a reverse tracking shot that stands as one of the master’s finest moments. What really excites Hitchcock is the chance to have fun with the victim’s corpse, which he enlists in service of some gruesome black comedy. Some of the violence is unduly cruel, and some Hitch fans might be put off by the film’s intermittent nastiness, but for those curious to see Hitchcock unhinged, Frenzy is a must.

Available on DVD from Universal.

2. TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT (George Cukor, 1972)

George Cukor has long been one of classical Hollywood’s great visual stylists, but his theatrical skill at staging, blocking, and set design tends to be side-lined in favor of the painterly gifts of a John Ford or the serpentine camera movements of a Max Ophüls. The delightfully abnormal Travels with My Aunt sees Cukor outside of the studio and shooting on location in England, Morocco, and quite a few other countries—and the traveling appears to have energized the septuagenarian filmmaker, whose spiraling camerawork and candy-colored photography seems the work of a young man. Adapting an oft-inappropriate Graham Greene story about a straight-laced young man’s (Alec McCowen) education in the ways of love and adventure by an eccentric aunt (Maggie Smith), Cukor blends old and new Hollywood sensibilities together via a seamlessly integrated series of flashbacks that matches the first-love past to the free-love present. Cukor will dabble in a bit of raucous drug humor before doubling back to an opulently mounted ballroom dance that seems a forgotten excerpt from Minnelli. Travels with My Aunt is as wonderfully liberated a movie as can be imagined, and single-handedly retires the idea that George Cukor was anything less than a master stylist.

Available on DVD from Warner Archive.

3. AVANTI! (Billy Wilder, 1972)

The running theme seems to be that New Hollywood production methods revivified many of the old masters and it’s certainly true of Billy Wilder, who with Avanti! in 1972 finally got the opportunity to luxuriate in Lubitsch, his directorial idol. The acrid sensibility of many of Wilder’s comedies sits at a distant remove from Ernst Lubitsch’s lightness of touch, but in Avanti! he seems to have found the ideal romantic getaway in a convoluted love story set off the Italian coast. Jack Lemmon is a self-absorbed American industrialist who arrives in Ischia to settle the accounts of his recently deceased father, who was on holiday at the island resort at the time of his death. Soon after his arrival he runs into Juliet Mills, an insecure London shop girl on similar business, and they come to realize that his father and her mother had been carrying on an illicit affair—one they are destined to repeat with each other. For all of the plot’s many comedic twists and turns, the story boils down to a central theme: the gradual softening of a businesslike American rigidity by the leisurely pace and natural beauty of a languid seaside existence. The common complaint is that the film is overlong, but it is precisely Wilder’s willingness to slow narrative to a halt and bask in the Mediterranean sun that makes Avanti! such a rare pleasure.

Available on DVD from MGM. – Stuart

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