The A to Z of My Lawyer Will Call Your Lawyer: H

An occasional series where Nick & Astrid go through their cinema alphabet.


I have taken walks on the Hollywood hills, passed close by the famous Hollywood sign. I have looked at LA from above that sign and wondered about people who still go and stand on the huge letters even though the area is surrounded by barbed wire and other surveillance equipment. I have thought of the aspiring starlet who ended her life by jumping down from letter H. And of course, I have been amazed to realize that the mystery and fascination with Hollywood does not dissolve with the ability to smell and touch Hollywood. If anything, my fascination has grown.

Casablanca 1942
My Hollywood is not only the physical part of LA, it's the cinema of the 1940s particularly. I think of red glittering shoes, the yellow brick road and of wonderful songs. I imagine the armies of hairdressers that were needed at the studio to curl all that hair for all those beautiful black and white movies. I think of the studio buildings and the neat order that needed to accompany chaos in order for those classic movies to be captured. 

Julia Roberts at the Oscars
In huge waves the word Hollywood floods my brain with images of faces and postures. The acting stars, their talent and other-worldly beauty occupies my mind. I know I'm entering the imaginary when I think I know how it feels to rent a condo and then stand on the terrace overlooking the valley and rehearse lines. I love to get lost in the red carpet images and in the fairytale of the thank-you speeches at award galas. I leave my better judgement and concentrate on the hues of pink chiffon at display. I even imagine a little starlet undressing after her first Oscar gala appearance is over. I try to feel her loneliness and her fear, as she contemplates her future on screen.

Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock may have been the master of suspense, but he's also the master of things not quite being what they seem. Devious details that only reveal themselves after various viewings. The first Hitchcock picture I saw I wasn't so sure it was Hitchcock, I Confess. The premise is so typical, in post-war Quebec a priest takes confession, the confessor admits murder, the priest under the rules of his religious code can not reveal the identity of the confessor. The priest then becomes the prime suspect. I was watching I Confess to see Montgomery Clift, it was only later in an interview between Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut (who discuss Clift's intense eyes in the movie) that I became aware it was a Hitchcock film. Where to start with Hitchcock?

Clift in I Confess (1953)
I'd say North By Northwest is my favourite (actually any Cary Grant in Hitchcock works), but James Stewart was also a great leading man for him (and Vertigo has to be one of the strangest, 'classic' films). How's this for pure entertainment and all round better than anyone else ever at that making movies thing: The Man Who knew Too Much, 39 Steps, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Suspicion, Shadow Of A Doubt, Spellbound, Notorious, Rope, Strangers On A Train, I Confess, Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, To Catch A Thief, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man, Marnie, Torn Curtain & Family Plot. And I didn't even mention those other masterpieces: hinting at horror with The Birds, inventing horror as we know it with Psycho (the first toilet shot in cinema), getting sicker and nasty with Frenzy. What astonishes by today's standards isn't just the imagination and how deeply strange a lot of this cinema is, but how popular it was (and still is). Hitchcock simply took more risks within the mainstream than any other artist before or since. And that difference is what keeps us going back time and time again.

Nobody wore a suit better in film than Cary Grant in North By Northwest (1959)
He was obsessed with the femme fatale (and of course she had to be most of the time blonde): take a bow Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh, Doris Day, Eve Marie Saint, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak (to name a few). Hitchcock was certainly old-fashioned as regards attitudes towards women, yet many of the female roles define his films and reveal the smarts. It's impossible not to like any of the films he made post Rear Window, it's where the fun begins and more ideas and great set pieces and performance and the suspense and the horror is ramped up to the maximum. Let's not forget there is always a murder. The poorish Torn Curtain has the oven scene to save it (and shock) whilst Topaz is just really crazy. There's always something. And it's always Hitchcock like. And many may swoon at his feet and feel inspired to mine the gold, the attention to everything is rarely as intense, and Hitchcock has almost always done it first. Hitchcock's cinema endures purely because he was and remains ahead of the game in so many ways.

Inventing modern horror with Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960)


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