Amy March: Elizabeth Taylor vs. Joan Bennett

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Yesterday, February 27, marked the birthday of two excellent classic actresses: the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor and the enigmatic Joan Bennett. But this is not the only common point these two ladies share. Indeed, they starred together in today’s birthday boy, Vincente Minnelli’s classics Father of the Bride and its sequel, Father’s Little Dividend as mother and daughter. They also both played the role of Amy March in two different adaptations of Little Women: the 1933’s George Cukor one for Joan Bennett and the 1949’s Mervyn Leroy one for Elizabeth Taylor.

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My friend Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting, for the first time, the Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon. I’ll be precisely comparing Liz and Joan’s portrayals of Amy March for the occasion. This, I believe, would be a brilliant way to celebrate both actresses. And, to tell you the truth, when I subscribed with this subject, I actually didn’t remember they were born on the same day! Well, coincidences like that are always fun.

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Little Women is an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 19th century literary classic of the same name. The story takes place in Concord, Massachusetts during the American Civil War. Dr. March is at the front while his wife and four daughters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are staying home and live their everyday life, dealing with the difficulties brought by the war. The sister all have very different personalities, but they complete each other perfectly and share a beautiful friendship.

Amy March is the youngest sibling. She is very coquette and has a strong personality, just like her sister Jo, but in a very different way. Amy’s passion is art and she loves to draw and paint. She is the artist of the family. Amy March is always dressed pretty and has curly golden hair.

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I must admit, to me, Joan Bennett was the perfect Amy March. Her delicate figure and porcelain doll face embodied the ideal look for the role. She also gives her character the right personality, the one we should imagine while reading the books. But Liz turned out to be an agreeable surprise! I don’t think blonde hair suits her as well as it does to Joan, but that’s just a detail. Her facial features and bone structure, however, seemed right. It might seem irrelevant to judge an casting choice base on the physical appearance, but the March sisters are characters that we want to picture perfectly in our head and that sees more credible if they are faithful to Louisa May Alcott’s description.

I think both Joan and Elizabeth shows different strenghts in their interpretations of Amy March. The postitive aspect of this is that they aren’t simple pale copies of each other. Amy March is young and well-mannered. Joan Bennett emodies the youthfullness of Amy to perfection and his credibe. Elizabeth Taylor, has a way of speaking that gives Amy this almost charicatural elegance. Indeed, her voice is clear and her words are perfectly calculated.

Despite her flaws and selfishness, Amy March is able of compassion, especially in times of crisis. By watching the two films, I feel like Joan Bennett embodied this emotion in a better way than Elizabeth Taylor. Or maybe not in a better way, but in a more obvious way. But, when I think about it, this maybe isn’t really the actress fault. It’s due to the way the book adaptation was made, despite the two movies being very similar. On another side, I felt her flaws were better embodied by Elizabeth Taylor. I read the book once when I was 11 or 12. So, that was 10 years ago and I obviously don’t remember everything about it. But, on the internet, Amy March is always described as “the sister that we love to hate.” Honestly, Joan Bennett didn’t really make me feel that. I don’t hate Amy March’s Liz Taylor either, far from it, but, in connection to what we previously said, her portrayal of Amy March is maybe more accurate.

So yes, both actresses bring out different traits of Amy March’s personality.

Amy March is the sister that makes me laugh the most after Jo. In the 1933’s version, I always have to watch, at least twice, the scene where Amy and Jo practice Jo’s play. Joan Bennett makes me laugh SO MUCH in this scene. I think Liz Taylor’s Amy March finds her funny side in her mannerisms and the way she pronounces those complicated made-up words. The sight of her sleeping with a clothespin on her nose in pretty comical too! Amy March has a complex with her nose and this is obviously better illustrated by Liz’s March.

Lastly, in this scene where Amy March comes back from Europe and is now married to Laurie Laurence, both Liz and Joan gives the right elegance to their character. Indeed, in both films, we know perfectly that Amy March is now a new person and, most of all, a better one. Both actresses are at the top of their elegance!

My favourite Amy March is still Joan Bennett’s one, but both she and Liz Taylor give beautiful justice to Louisa May Alcott’s character!

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Many thanks to Crystal for hosting this blogathon!

Don’t forget to read the other entries:

The Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon

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Happy heavenly birthday again Liz and Joan!

PS: If you wish to read a more complete review of 1933’s Little Women, please click here!

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Dreaming in Hitchcock Movies

“Dream dream, filling up an idle hour
Fade away, radiate”
– Debbie Harry, Dreaming


I’m one of those persons who are quite fascinated by dreams. From the most ordinary ones to the most extraordinary ones,  I saw them in all their colours. When I can remember my dreams, I write them in a little notebook to make sure I don’t forget them later. Actually, this is also a way to stimulate my subconscious and the more I work on them, the more I can remember them. I sometimes read my dream notebook and I have some fun reading stuff I didn’t remember.

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Dreams inspire art; paintings, songs, and, of course, cinema. So I thought, why not discussing the dreaming world in movies. I cannot talk about ALL the movies with dreams. So, why not focusing on the dreaming world in Hitchcock’s films?!

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Spellbound (1945)

“Good night and sweet dreams… which we’ll analyze at breakfast.” – Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), Spellbound

When one thinks of dreams in classic films, I’m pretty sure the first scene that comes to his or her mind is the one created by Salvador Dalí for Spellbound. Well, when Dali, the master of surrealism, accepts to direct a dream scene, you know it’s going to be a winning result. Dali’s painting themselves seem to be inspired by dreams or, at least by something that mysteriously poped-up of his mind for whatever reasons. I must admit, I didn’t do any dreams where the objects were weird and misshapen like in Dalí’s paintings, but the importance here is the symbolism of this dream.

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In the 40s, psychoanalyse was a subject that was very “en vogue”. With Spellbound, Hitchcock had for desired to direct the first movie on the subject. Like he explained to François Truffaut, he consulted famous psychoanalyst during the making of his film. The Master of Suspense also explained that he had for break the tradition of blurry and confused dreams that we usually see in movies. That’s why he wanted to work with Dalí. This one would create a visually very clear dream with clear and acute traits.

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So, in a movie about psychoanalyze, dreams are of a high importance. If I’m not mistaken, Dali’s sequence originally laste around 20 minutes, but it was cut to only a few. Not to mention that some of Dalí’s ideas were a bit difficult to shot as Hitchcock explained to Truffaut.  In a way, there’s something interesting about that. Have you ever heard that, even if your dreams sometimes seem to last forever, they only last a minute or a few seconds? In Spellbound, JB (Gregory Peck)’s dream is of a central importance since it helps Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) and Professor Brulov (Michael Chekhov) to understand him and to help him regain his memory. It is said that dreams all have a meaning. Well, Spellbound‘s dream sequence is the perfect example of that.

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I feel that, in classic films, you had some of the most weirdly illustrated dreams. Of course, we all remember Spellbound’s dream for these curtains with painted eyes that are cut by a man with a giant pair of scissors. This is maybe the most iconic part of the sequence. Objects also have weird forms and proportions. For example, one can think of this crooked wheel or this giant table where a game of card is being interrupted by a man without a face. My personal favourite part of the dream is when Gregory Peck is running down a slope and followed by a pair of big wings (we only see their shadows). There’s something very beautiful in this shot that fits perfectly the dreaming world. Of course, we learn later in the film what is the meaning of all this.

 

Vertigo (1958)

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere. ” – Madeleine (Kim Novak), Vertigo

The scene designed by Dalí isn’t the only memorable dream sequence from an Hitchcock’s film. In 1958, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart)’s nightmare had something truly terrifying. The mix between Bernard Herrmann’s score and the flashy colours create a haunting moment. Interestingly, Vertigo was the first film to use computer graphics, these being designed by Saul Bass. Those weren’t only used in the opening titles but also in the nightmare scene. The script doesn’t try to reveal the “meaning” of this dream like it is the case with Spellbound. However, the symbols are clear enough to understand that it reflects a part of Scottie’s life that begins to haunt him more and more.

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Vertigo‘s dream sequence is also the proof that this film used Technicolor to its full potential. I must admit, the first time I saw this scene, I felt slightly uncomfortable, but I think it is meant to be. What particularly frightened me is this moment when Scottie advances toward’s Carolotta’s tomb where a hole has been dug to put a coffin. I was only expecting to see Carolotta’s rotten corpse lying there, but, luckily, there wasn’t anything of the sort. I remember my sister coming in the living room right during this dream sequence and saying “Ah, that’s scary!” before leaving. But once you are more “used to it” you find it somehow fascinating. I love the short moment were Galvin Elster, Carlotta Valdes and Scottie are next to a window and the first two just stare at Scottie with a very cold look. The nightmare scene is also in perfect harmony with the music and, therefore, there’s something very choreographical about it.

 

Rebecca (1940)

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – Mrs. DeWinter (Joan Fontaine), Rebecca

It’s with this iconic sentence that Daphné DuMaurier introduced her most acclaimed novel, Rebecca. Of course, Hitchcock had to use it in his Oscar-winning film. “I” De Winter (Joan Fontaine)’s dream evokes the memory she has of Manderley, the place where she used to live with her husband Max DeWinter (Laurence Olivier). In her dream, Manderley is burnt and now a desolate place. This is also a vision of reality and the rest of the film is a long flashback that will help us understand the mystery and the fatal faith of this rich domain.

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This dream scene at the beginning that introduces the film is filmed in a subjective point of view. It is seen through the narrator’s eyes, the second Mrs. DeWinter. Joan Fontaine’s enchanting and smooth voice adds a certain tranquility to the sad vision of the abandoned place. It’s interesting how this dream that is so calm is abruptly interrupted by a crash of waves in the following scene. This sequence wasn’t directed by Dalí, but we still can admire its beautiful black and white cinematography that gives it a vision of poetry.

 

Marnie (1964)

“You Freud, me Jane? “ – Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), Marnie

Just like Spellbound, Marnie has psychoanalysis as a central subject. The main character, Marnie, is a cleptomaniac and also has a phobia of the colour red. Interestingly, in opposition to the previous movies, we actually never see Marnie’s dreams. We only see her dreaming. It is obvious that those are nightmares. To highlight her fear of red, these scenes are filmed with a red flashy lightning which makes the dream even more threatening than it already is. But what is the symbolism or this red that Marnie is so afraid of? The Devil? Violence? Blood? Marnie’s dreams always start with something knocking and the furious first notes of Bernard Herrmann’s score. Marnie constantly evokes her mother in her dreams and it seems that she is associated with some bad memories. Just like Spellbound, these dreams will help us to discover the truth about the title character. However, here the subject of psychoanalyse wasn’t as developed as it was with Spellbound.

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These are, I would say, the essential Hitchcock’s dream scenes. However, one can observe that some of his scenes, although they portrait reality and not a dream, are almost filmed like a dream because of the light, the colours, the blurry image, the way it is shot, etc. A few examples would be the weird trial scene in Dial M for Murder (Margot Wendice is living a real nightmare); the flashback scene in I Confess (which has a very clear and white image); when Margaret Lockwood’s faint in The Lady Vanishes; in Vertigo when Judy comes out of the bathroom metamorphosed into Madeleine, etc. François Truffaut even said to Hitchcock that, for him, many of his films, such as Vertigo and Notorious, looked like filmed dreams.

Dream scenes in movies give the occasion to the film crew to explore a different way to illustrate something. Of course, all dreams are different so, according to each movie director, a dream scene can be very different. We observe that Hitchcock’s dream scenes are mostly nightmare or, in Rebecca‘s case, the vision of something sad. Most of the time, these reflect the past of a character, a trouble hidden in his or her subconscious or a difficult situation.

Which Hitchcock’s dream scene fascinates you the most?

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Source:

– Truffaut, François. Hitchcock/Truffaut. Gallimard. 1993.

 

 

Hitchcock’s Dangerous Waters

Hitchcock’s films have been analyzed through various subjects. They are recognizable for having common points, both in their narrative and technical aspects. We know Hitchcock liked cool blondes, “wrong men”, murders, stairs, trains, cameos, etc. But a subject that isn’t talked much about is the importance of water in his films. I was thinking about this recently and, generally, water in Hitchcock’s film is associated with danger or, at least, to something not positive.

I had the idea of writing about this as, yesterday, in class, we were talking about two Lucia Puenzo’s movies, XXY and The Fish Child. In both movies, water is associated with something calm, something not menacing and beautiful. And then I thought, “Oh not like in Hitchcock’s films!” Because Hitchcock obviously always comes to my mind…

How is the element water used in Hitchcock’s films? That’s what I’ll explore today through 17 of his films. I might reveal some spoilers, so be careful. There are movies I might not be discussing if I haven’t seen them already.

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MURDER:

Generally, water is associated with murder in Hitchcock movies. What always first comes to our mind when we think about Hitchcock movies is the famous shower scene from Psycho. Here, we could also associate this shower to vulnerability. Marion Crane is trapped like a mouse. There’s no way she can get out and save herself.  Why did the murderer decide to kill her in the shower? Let’s precise that Hitchcock did not invent that original murder, but Robert Bloch in his book of the same name. But anyway, why the shower? My theories are that it is a place where the victim becomes highly vulnerable like I previously said, but also where the blood is easier to wash. I’ve always liked this scene when Norman Bates cleans the blood in the bathtub after the murder. It’s all washed very quickly and easily. He doesn’t have to scrub during hours.

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Psycho, yes, is the first film we’ll think about when we mention water and murder while discussing Hitchcock’s films, but it’s certainly not the only one. A movie where water is absolutely like hell is the not so often talked about Jamaica Inn. Based on the novel of the same name by Daphné Du Maurier, it takes place on the Cornwall coast. Without going into the whole movie plot, the main problematic involves a bunch of criminals who provoke shipwrecks by turning off the light of the lighthouse on the coast. As a result, the boats dart on the rocky coast and sink. The survivors are then killed by the men and are abandoned in the water like the boats and the rest of the already dead crew. The criminals then steal the boats from their possessions. Unlike Psycho, this involves mass murder. The concept is very interesting, although I’ve always thought those men were going through a lot to reach their goal… Jamaica Inn is a very dark film. Water here is not only associated with murder, but also to barbarism. Poor Mary Yellen’s uncle is one of them. He and the other men are people with no manners and no consideration. They are more like beasts than humans, unlike [spoiler] Norman Bates, who remains a someone with manners despite his wrong actions (of course, we only discover at the end that HE is the murderer). [end of spoiler]. But of course, here we’re comparing someone with a mental case to common thieves with no common sense.

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Then, there is Saboteur. Here, it’s not complicated, one of Frank Fry’s hideous sabotage plans consist in the explosion of a boat. The struggle between Fry and Kane in the truck where the detonator remains among the most stressful scenes in Hitchcock’s filmography. Will Kane succeed to stop Fry from pushing the detonator? Unfortunately, no. The boat explodes under the eyes of terrified people. Here, what we associate with water is simply the boat. No need to explain why. One of the most memorable shots of the film is when Fry, sat in a car, sees the boat lying on its side in the water, and does this creepy criminal smile. By the way, Norman Lloyd, the oldest Hollywood actor will turn 102 years old next November 8! Very soon! 🙂

The last movie we’ll talk about is Strangers on a Train. Here, it concerns Miriam’s murder. Remember, Bruno Anthony kills her on the Lovers Island at the amusement park. The island is obviously surrounded by water, which allows the murderer to escape in his boat and go back on the solid ground. Here, the victim is not directly killed in the water like in Jamaica Inn or Psycho, but her murder takes place next to a watercourse.

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AFTER THE MURDER…

Sometimes, the victim in Hitchcock’s film would not necessarily have been murdered in  the water, but would be found in a watercourse, simply because that’s where the murderer decided to get rid of her. This refers to the famous cliché that murderers get rid of their victims by throwing them in a lake, a river, the sea, etc. Once again, water is associated to something creepy. I mean, who would like to go swim in a bay where a corpse has been found?

The first film we’ll think about is Young and Innocent. It’s poor Robert who discovers the dead body of actress Christine Clay while he’s walking on the beach. First, we see a hand appearing among the waves (kind of creepy) and then the whole corpse. But the presence of a belt as well let us know that she didn’t drown, but had been murdered by strangulation.

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Then there is Rebecca. During the whole movie, we think Rebecca died in a boat accident until we learn that she, in fact, died in her little house by the sea. [spoiler] In the novel she is killed by her husband Max the Winter, but in the film, she dies by falling and hurting her head (always in the presence of Max). But in both cases, Max decides to get rid of the corpse by putting it in the sailing ship and arranges for it to sink, so people would believe in an accident.[end of spoiler]. The ocean is menacing in Rebecca. This one seems always in movement, never calm and highly impressive. [spoiler] Rebecca’s boat and the corpse are found in the stressful climax of the film. [end of spoiler] If you have read Daphné du Maurier’s novel, it describes how, even if the west wing’s rooms give a beautiful view of the sea, the east wing’s rooms are more peaceful having a view on the garden. Precisely because there’s something, yes, beautiful, but also menacing and violent about the ocean, especially on windy nights.

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In To Catch a Thief, water is first associated with something casual and pleasant when France and John swim in the Mediterranean on a sunny day, until [spoiler] Foussard is killed. He is knocked out on the head and falls into the sea from a high cliff. We remember his inert face, with the eyes open, when he is found. Quite a shock for the poor guy…[end of spoiler]

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We then get back to Psycho, where water becomes important, not only during the shower scene, but also in those sequences where Norman Bates gets rid of the victim’s cars. And where does he put them? In the dirty pond! Clever. Here, water is used to hide something. Marion Crane’s car is fished out at the end of the film. We know her body is in the trunk of the car, but we’re thankful those details are not shown to us. Hugh!

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To wrap up on this category, the last film we should mention in Frenzy. At the beginning, one of the victims of the “necktie murderer” is found in the Thames under the terrified reactions of the Londoners. Mind the river.

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Murderers seem not to have understood something: even if you throw a body in the water, it will always come back to the surface… Better bury him!

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SUICIDE

A delicate subject, suicide has not been as much present as murder in Hitchcock movies, but it’s there. The first film that comes to our mind when we think about suicide in Hitchcock films is Vertigo. Remember, Scottie follows Madeleine (well, that’s what he thinks…) and, when they arrived next to the Golden Gate (the story takes place in San Francisco), she throws herself in the San Francisco Bay. Ironically, the Golden Gate is known as the bridge where the biggest amount of suicides was committed in North America. The second one is the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal where I live (…). Anyway, Madeleine creates an association between her and water by choosing this way of killing herself. Luckily, Scottie manages to rescue her. Poor Kim Novak, she really couldn’t swim. Hitchcock could be harsh on his actresses…

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Chloé from the mediocre film The Skin Game does the same and kill herself by falling into a pool. To be honest, I don’t really know why. It’s not a very good film, so I kind of forgot about it.

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Finally, Hitchcock’s early silent film The Manxman also contains a suicide scene when Kate elegantly throws herself in the water. Her wedding life was not going too well…

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A beautiful dramatical shot

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BOATS

Water also becomes dangerous when you are on a boat and this one sinks… This was used at its full potential in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. After a boat as been sunk by the German army, its survivors find themselves surviving on a lifeboat, for an undetermined period. What will happen to them? They are lost, forever alone in this huge ocean. But “water” here is also a synonym of “hope”. They hope for rain, as they practically have nothing to drink. This Hitchcock’s film, where all the action takes place on the ocean is one of his most thrilling.

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There’s also an important scene in Rich and Strange that involves a boat sinking. That’s what happens to Emily and Fred at the end of their cruise. The poor ones think they are at the end of their life, but, luckily, they are saved by another boat. We remember when they are locked up in their room and the water starts coming through the door. It seems to be the end, but, when they wake up, Fred and Emily realizes they are not dead. That would have been too dramatic for such a film.

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OTHER

There are four more films I briefly want to mention that are also related to water in Hitchcock’s films.

First, there’s Sabotage. In this film, the two saboteurs have a secret meeting in an aquarium. It’s indeed a very special place to have a meeting. Of course, it’s a calm place, there are not too many people and the fish cannot really hear them… This is a very special scene in the film. Shot in an interesting visual way.

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Second, The Birds takes place in Bodega Bay. The bay is part of the pacific ocean and it’s in this little Californian town that aggressive birds will attack people. Once again, the menace is happening next to a watercourse. We see a lot of seagulls in The Birds, which birds that NORMALLY live by the sea (if there’s not a McDonald around…)

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Third, Roger Thornhill almost falls from a cliff when he is driving his car, drunk. Vandamm and his gang hoped to kill him this way, but, obviously, Thornhill manages to save his skin. Well, it would have been too weird if Cary Grant would have died in the first minutes of the film, no?…

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Finally, water becomes associated with danger at the end of Number 17, when the train, that goes at a very high speed, falls into the sea. The film is not a very good one, but that’s a moment we don’t forget. And, as much as the water is menacing for the train, by falling into it, the train also becomes a menace for the water as it pollutes it. Yes, we must have an environmental conscience, even when we watch Hitchcock’s movies! 😉

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There are some movies that I might not have mentioned that also use water as an object of fear and danger. I think there’s a plane that crashes in the ocean in Foreign Correspondent, no? But I preferred not to develop on the subject as I haven’t seen the film yet and didn’t want to say anything that could be wrong.

Well,  as always, there’s always so much to say about one specific subject in a Hitchcock film! I hope this was interesting!

See you! 🙂

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