I Confess (1953) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I CONFESS MOVIE POSTER
I CONFESS, 1953
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Montgomery Cliff, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Refusing to give into police investigators’ questions of suspicion, due to the seal of confession, a priest becomes the prime suspect in a murder.

Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for loathing actors. He once famously remarked that actors should be “treated like cattle.” His least favorite kind of actors were those who used “The Method” technique pioneered by Stanislavski and taught by Lee Strasberg at The Actors’ Studio. Despite his dislike for method actors, one of Hitchcock’s best films starred one of the greatest Method technicians. The movie was I Confess (1953), and its star was Montgomery Clift.

I Confess is not one of Hitchcock’s well known movies. This is hard to believe considering that the cast includes Clift, Anne Baxter and Karl Malden. The story is also top notch. Its premise involves the binding nature of the confession on Catholic priests.

The story begins as the church’s groundskeeper, Otto, happens to get in an argument one night with a man, Villette, who he gardens for on the weekends. Otto wants Villette’s money, but the he won’t give it to him, so Otto kills Villette.

The only witnesses to the murder are two young girls who say that they saw a man wearing a cassock walking from the scene. A small note about the cassock needs to be inserted here. Not only does the cassock play a large role in the movie’s story, but it played an even bigger role in the movie’s filming. Quebec was the only city Hitchcock could find where priests still wore cassocks. So, the cast and crew shot most of the movie on location in Quebec.

Feeling remorse, Otto heads to the confessional. There Father Logan, played by Clift, hears Otto confess to the murder of the rich lawyer Villette. Of course, being a priest who is bound to keep confessions a secret, Father Logan can not go to the police.

The suspense becomes enhanced when it is learned that Father Logan has become the prime suspect in the murder. Hitchcock has created his trademark “innocent man accused” situation. He then ratchets up the suspense like only he can.

We learn that before becoming a priest, Father Logan had been a war hero who had fallen for Anne Baxter’s character, Ruth. The two were lovers before World War II, but Logan never wrote her during the war. When he returns he finds Ruth. The two spend the day together and get caught in a rainstorm, while on an island. They spend the night in a gazebo. In the morning, a man appears and he asks Logan why he spent the night with a married woman.

From here on the man, who happens to be Villette, begins to blackmail Ruth. When Father Logan comes to view the body the day after hearing Otto’s confession, he spots Ruth who tells him that she was being blackmailed by Villette.

Karl Malden’s Inspector Larrue sees the two talking and begins to investigate their relationship. He figures out that Ruth still loves Logan and that she was being blackmailed by Villette. Putting two and two together he accuses Logan of the murder. The climax of the movie occurs in the courtroom where all the major players are. Otto sits in his seat, smugly knowing that Logan will not break his vow. Ruth knows Logan is innocent, but can’t provide any proof. Worst of all, Logan knows who the real killer is, but can’t say anything about it.

I will stop the plot summary here, as I don’t want the end of the movie to be ruined. This great story is also filmed brilliantly. The murder is pointed out to us during one of the best opening sequences Hitchcock ever did. This movie should really be on more lists of the best movies made by Alfred Hitchcock. It is a worthwhile watch for any fan of Hitchcock, Baxter or Clift.

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Movie Review: BATTLE ROYALE, 2000

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BATTLE ROYALE,      MOVIE POSTERBATTLE ROYALE, 2000
Movie Reviews

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sosuke Takaoka
Review by Keith Huckfield

SYNOPSIS:

In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary “Battle Royale” act.

REVIEW:

In an alternative reality Japan is in a state of near collapse. Unemployment is at an all time high, and violence perpetrated by the nations youth is spiralling out of control. With school children boycotting their classes and attacking teachers, the government introduces a radical new measure; the Battle Royale Act. This act requires a class of school children, randomly chosen by a lottery, to be taken to an island where they will kill each other off until only one student remains, a reminder of what the government will do to protect the nation from youth crime.

Battle Royale was directed by Kinji Fukasaku and adapted from a novel of the same name. Fukasaku chose to adapt the book because it reminded him of his time working in a munitions factory during World War II, a time where he saw many of his school friends killed in artillery fire and the survivors were forced to hide under the bodies of their colleagues. This convinced Fukasaku that the Japanese government had lied about the war and gave him a great distrust of adults and authority in general.

This mistrust and cynicism is resonant throughout Battle Royale, and the film is a gruesome yet beautiful exercise in extremist cinema; tackling the very real issue of crime committed by the youth of Japan and taking the response by the government to an almost cartoonish extreme. While it was made nearly ten years ago its story has never been more relevant to the real world; unemployment continues to rise in a world blighted by economic crisis and teen violence goes seemingly unchecked. The film offers a chilling glimpse into a possible outcome of such a tumultuous time and gives a warning to all about what can happen if the hypocrisy and corruption inherent in all government goes unchecked.

The concept of the movie has echoes of ‘1984’ and ‘Brazil’; in it we see a society incapable of dealing with rebellion or controlling their populace through peaceful measures that turns to fascism and oppression in order to achieve their ‘perfect’ world. In Battle Royale, however, Japan’s own children represent the undesirable element that the government wish to curb. This creates a strange dystopia where the enemy to the state is not an outside force but simply youthful rebellion and delinquent attitudes. Through this brilliantly simple device the film succeeds in highlighting the insanity of oppressive regimes and the objectification of human beings into a problem that needs to be eliminated.

Not only does Battle Royale offer a serious peek into this dystopian world, it also contains a large amount of gallows humour. The instructional video that the official in charge, Kitano-sensei, shows the kids, for example, is absurdly upbeat with a pretty, smiling girl delivering the grim instructions to a class of petrified teenagers. This lampoons Japanese television, in particular shows which will happily exploit members of the public for the entertainment of the viewing masses. More humour comes as the students turn on each other in a parody of playground politics and despite their situation continue to worry about small things such as who fancies who, as if such things are more important than their impending demise.

Kitano-Sensei, played to wonderful effect by Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano, is a fantastic send up of the corruption inherent in such a programme. An ex-teacher of the class now facing the Battle Royale experience, he is completely wrapped up in his own subjective experience of teaching the kids. He even bears a grudge for one particular incident that led to him being stabbed in the backside by a student named Nobu, whom he kills as an example to the others. Far from being the impartial official necessary to police such a game, he has a vested interest in the outcome and a fermented hatred of teenagers that colours his judgement, guiding his actions. He seems uncaring and unmoved by the violence, revelling in the excitement of it all and goading the children about ‘slacking off’ when only a few die during the morning. Through small touches like this, Battle Royale provides a microcosmic indictment of the hypocrisy of adult society as an uncaring bureaucracy that does not recognise people as such until they are adults.

Every death is a work of comic-horrific genius, as heads are thrown through windows with grenades stuffed in their mouths and old childhood rivalries take on a deadly reality. When we first see the children as a group, laughing and joking on a school bus, it is impossible to see how they could turn into killers or saviours, heroes or villains. Soon after they are released in to the wilderness, however, the battle lines are drawn and 15 year old boys and girls are forced to fight for their lives. Perhaps this is part of the warning; if kids want to act violently and take on affectations of adulthood these are the more extreme effects of what these acts can have, namely death.

Even Darwinism and survival of the fittest are not safe from satire, as any students who seek a peaceful resolution are mercilessly gunned down by the main antagonist Kiriyama or turn on each other in a flurry of paranoid accusations and fear induced self-preservation. Through this we see the backbone of the narrative; everyone for themselves.

To analyse Battle Royale is to gaze into an abyss of subtext, every layer removed reveals ten more potential readings that are just as thought provoking as the last. The film offers a chilling glimpse of what the world could be like if all remaining humanity and goodness were drained from society. Some censorious types might say that the film could encourage teen violence with its scenes of death and destruction, however a more apt interpretation may be that it is a warning to all teenagers that ultimately the adults that they disrespect and abuse on a day to day basis hold a lot of power over their lives. A gruelling thrill-ride with a solid message at its core, the pace will leave you breathless but the plot will give you pause for thought. To focus on the violence of the film is to miss the point. When watching this film try to see past the blood coated surface and stare into the depths of political satire and tragedy at its heart, it will be hard work but ultimately worth the effort.

Deadline Thriller/Suspense Film and Writing Festival
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Movie Review: JAWS (1975)

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JAWS, MOVIE POSTERJAWS, 1975
Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb
Review by Steven Loeb

SYNOPSIS:

When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.

 

REVIEW:

What causes people to be scared of the unknown? Most often, it is that which can’t be seen that is the most terrifying. The imagination, it seems, is capable of conjuring images that are far worse than anything real could ever be. The best horror films are the ones that capitalize on the reactions people have to the things that are beyond their scope, be it something from another world, or, as in the case of Jaws, something that lies just below the ocean’s surface.

The plot of Jaws centers around a man-eating great white shark, terrorizing beachgoers at a summer resort. The Chief of Police, played by Roy Scheider, lobbies to close the beach, but is overridden by the town mayor. After more people are killed on the Fourth of July, the Chief, a marine biologist, and a shark hunter go out to kill the shark before it can claim another victim.

The ultimate success of the film is one of the most unlikely stories in cinema history. The original novel was written in 1974 by a first time author named Peter Benchley. The book, despite not being well received by critics, was a giant success, selling nearly ten million copies. A film adaptation was inevitable and, despite it being such a hot property, it was entrusted to an unknown filmmaker with only one other feature film under his belt, a twenty-nine year old named Steven Spielberg.

The production of Jaws was plagued with problems that have now become the stuff of legend. Mechanical sharks broke down constantly, causing the movie to go way over budget and scenes to be rewritten as the movie was being filmed. And yet, when all was said and done, despite all probability, it was the highest grossing movie of all time up until that point. It became the first movie ever to make over $100 million dollars, making it the first real blockbuster and forever changing the way movies would be marketed.

Ironically, in retrospect it seems that the problems that Spielberg encountered while making the film are at least partially what led to its ultimate success. Since the mechanical sharks refused to work, Spielberg was forced to improvise, shooting around the shark and from its point of view, thereby making the film even more suspenseful and the shark that much more terrifying even though it was not seen until at least an hour into the film. Also contributing to the suspense was John William’s, now classic, and also Oscar winning, score, made up of merely two notes played over and over again, starting out slowly but steadily speeding up into frenzy. Some have likened the score to the heartbeat of the shark, as it is getting ready to feed. This, combined with the Oscar winning editing of Verna Fields, was instrumental in creating suspense and terror in audiences.

What separates Jaws from other scary movies and blockbusters are the characters. Often in movies like this characters are one-dimensional and underdeveloped, and when they inevitably die there is no emotion attached. In Jaws, however, there are three relatable characters that we care about and who have very clear motivations. There is police chief Brody, the hero of the story and the most relatable character, due both to his fear of the water and his concern for the family he seeks to protect. He is the everyman of the story, and the one who’s eyes we see everything through. Richard Dreyfuss plays Hooper, the marine biologist, who is the first one to spell out how dangerous the shark is. Robert Shaw is the shark hunter named Quint, who has the most personal reason for wanting to kill the shark. When the three men are on the water, Quint delivers a speech about being on the USS Indianapolis when it went down and watching his shipmates being eaten by sharks; it is one of the most memorable moments in film history. This speech helps the audience understand exactly what drives him. That is due to, not only, the excellent acting of Shaw, who delivers the best performance in the film, but also the script, which took a poorly received novel and turned it into a story filled with relatable characters who we care about.

Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw are three excellent actors who have very strong chemistry together. Although the entire second half of the film is the three of them on the boat together, hunting the shark, and not for one second is it dull or boring.

The movie would be nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, ultimately winning three of them, yet, surprisingly, it did not receive a nomination for directing or for any acting categories. It did not take long for the Academy to recognize Spielberg, however, as he was nominated for three of his next four films.

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