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The Great Impersonation

better version
This version of "The Great Impersonation" sticks to the book rather well. By contrast, the 1942 version is an extremely loose interpretation and obviously World War II propaganda. The acting is fine and the dialog interesting. The casting is excellent. This movie is based on what is supposed to be Oppenheim's greatest novel. I read the novel and thought it was mediocre. For its time, the movie, in my opinion, actually outshone the novel. Both the 1935 and 1942 versions of the novel are unapologetic melodramas, but the 1935 version has the more interesting and complex plot. However, ideally one should watch each and decide for oneself.

Love from a Stranger

This is the definitive movie version of the story. The later movie version pales by comparison. The casting is terrific. The plot is plausible. The pacing is perfect. The settings were simple yet convincing. The acting is right on the button. Basil Rathbone is extraordinary in what may be one of his finest performances. Hitchock could not have directed it any better. The psychopathology is presented in a valid way, eschewing melodrama. This version is uncompromisingly true to the meaning and the tone of Christie's creation. Just as importantly the dialogue does not insult your intelligence. The final scene is intense yet controlled and makes one yearn for these well-done black and white movies in contrast to the melodramatic, syrupy Technicolor endings we get nowadays.

Love from a Stranger

This was a rather pedestrian version of the Agatha Christie short story thriller (Philomel Cottage). Of course, the original short story confined itself to the time the couple spent on their honeymoon, although the subsequent adapted theater play expanded on the plot. Sylvia Sidney came off as a kind of Betty Davis type with a distracting edge to her delivery. John Hodiak's performance started off with subtlety but towards the end it deteriorated into melodrama. I agree with another reviewer that I couldn't help thinking that this would have gotten a much better treatment from Alfred Hitchcock. The plot development was implausible at times. Although the beginning was cogent and mood-setting, I was disappointed by the lack of subtlety in the ending, which differed from the Christie ending. The story should have been about the psychology of predator and prey, but that aspect was muted. I have not read the theater play, so I don't know how its ending compared to the wonderful Christie ending.

The Lady Vanishes

a many-sided masterpiece
People who view "The Lady Vanishes" can be like blind men studying an elephant, seeing only one or two aspects of a complex beast. It is a mystery, thriller, character study, romance, and, don't forget, a SPY STORY! Hitchcock is working on many levels in this film. One must remember that the book (The Wheel Spins) and the movie were created at a time when there was great division of opinion in England over the proper attitude towards Hitler. In this regard, the movie doesn't just allude to the political tension in the world but makes the train a blatant allegory for anti-appeasement sentiments. Perhaps I am over-analyzing the parallels but I think they abound. The prime antagonist is not only Germanic, but is eloquently duplicitous and surreptitiously cunning. His paid henchmen are Italians. The British are schizophrenically depicted as petty, insouciant,bourgeois, and in denial (the two British "gentlemen") and forthright, brave, and vital (the "lady" and the two young protagonists). The lawyer is the corrupt pacifist, who, even when it is too late, cannot comprehend the destructiveness of his pacifism -- perhaps reflecting Hitchock's disdain for the legal political types who were blinded to the real dangers of Hitler. Even the train itself,the use of unconvincing "miniatures" at times, the disguising of the identity of the "lady", the magician storyline, etc. can be perhaps viewed as political metaphors, thickening even further the fabric of the subtext. That said, the movie also works on all the other levels mentioned and the genius of it is in the way all levels mesh quite seamlessly and with humor.

Blake of Scotland Yard

just for the 30's youngsters
confusing tiresome plot; exasperatingly inane action; tries to be cute by using current "in" references but ends up being oh so lame. The longer serialized version perhaps is a little better but I have not seen it. You keep asking yourself over and over again "Why did they do a stupid thing like that?" when you see 1)the heroine enter a dangerous scene pushing the youngster ahead of her or 2) they keep shooting guns and weapons out of each others' hands instead of actually shooting the attacker himself or 3) when one character hiding and spying tells(in a 90 decibel voice) his accomplice to talk more softly or they will be uncovered, 4) and so on ad nausea. Obviously meant for an uncritical 10-year-old audience.

The Ice Harvest

Dark Dark humor
Dark humor? (or emphasis on the dark and near-absence of humor?) In some ways, the hard-drinking, tough guys and cool, untrustworthy dames remind you of a Hammett story. However, Hammett's greatness is that he usually has a protagonist who is at least somewhat morally centered, with the result that you care about the character and this in turn creates intensity and suspense, not just luridness. Therefore, Ice Harvest fails as a gritty thriller because you don't (or shouldn't) care about any of the characters. It moreover fails as enjoyable dark humor because it is almost humorless, unlike some other Thornton dark dramas. Don't think Ice Harvest is one of those. It really needed more comic relief. Simply casting John Cusac in the movie doesn't qualify it for humorous appeal. The acting,by the way, was much better than the material.

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