Monday, July 9, 2012

Grab Bag: Peeping Tom, Hopscotch, Where the Sidewalk Ends

Three more movie reviews coming your way. No theme today, just some good old movies that I think are all worth your time. Enjoy!

Peeping Tom by Michael Powell, 1960

Mere months before Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was released here in the states, a somewhat similar film was released in England, to much less acclaim: Michael Powell's Peeping Tom. The story of a cameraman who kills women in order to preserve the look in their eyes at the moment of their death, Peeping Tom is a bit edgier than Psycho, focusing less on the Hollywood thrills and twists and turns that Hitchcock preferred and instead takes a more subdued, realistic, and well, British approach.

I actually may have liked Peeping Tom better than Psycho, if that's possible. Mark Lewis, the killer character played by Carl Boehm, is a more realistic portrayal of the psychology of a serial killer than Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. He is less charming than Perkins, and is more of the quiet, strange man who lives upstairs. As a child, his psychologist father filmed him at every moment of the day, often intentionally scaring him to record his reaction. There's a very unsettling sexual subtext to the footage and Mark's reaction while watching it. There's a lot of sexual subtext throughout.

Upon release, Peeping Tom tanked, but over the years, the critical reception for it has completely turned around. Now regarded by many as a masterpiece, it was a bit ahead of its time, I think, and people didn't know what to make of it. Anyhow, this movie is a must. Check it out, if you haven't. It would make a perfect double feature with Psycho.

Hopscotch by Ronald Neame, 1980
Whew, look at that poster. That is not a movie I would want to see. Perhaps not the ideal marketing campaign for Hopscotch, but then again, what do I know?

Hopscotch is the story of Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau), an experienced CIA field agent who is punished for no good reason by his superior, and put on a desk job. To get back at them, Kendig runs off, goes into hiding, writes a tell-all book exposing all of his dirty laundry, as well as the CIA's and the KGB's, and threatens to publish.

The movie is a smart, funny, and spirited chase movie, as Kendig leads his CIA superior (Ned Beatty) and replacement (Sam Waterston) on just to mess with them. It's unpredictable, since Kendig keeps his plan under wraps, even to the audience. I like the low tech, analog aspect. Spy movies with crazy technology are cool, but there's something really fun about it all being done the old fashioned way. It's sort of like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in that way, but, you know, funny. Walter Matthau is great here as always.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Otto Preminger, 1950

This has nothing to do with the Shel Silverstein book. It's a film noir, and a good one, at that.

Where the Sidewalk Ends is about Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews), a hotheaded detective, recently demoted for his violent impulses. When investigating a murder at an underground gambling house, Dixon is sent to question a possible but unlikely suspect, one that he shouldn't have much problem with. Well, Dixon ends up accidentally killing the guy.

He attempts to cover it up, but things only get worse from there, as he takes a liking to his victim's estranged wife and father-in-law, a cab driver prone to exaggerating stories. How far can Dixon carry his guilt? When will the lies pile up too high?

Where the Sidewalk Ends is a satisfying film noir, though in the end, it's a lot less nihilistic than some of its peers. I always wonder when I see a film noir end with anything but the darkest of outcomes if this was a compromise with someone at the studio. Not necessarily, I know, but I bet there are many cases where it is.


That's all for today. I've got a lot more stuff to review, so I'll try to have three more tomorrow.

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