Yesterday, the famous movie music composer Bernard Herrmann would have been 106 years old. He did not only share his brilliance in his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, but in all the movie scores he composed. It’s for that reason that he is a favourite among many cinephiles. He certainly was among those movie composers who perfectly knew how to musically illustrate the atmosphere of a film.
I didn’t have time to “celebrate” him yesterday as I was working, but I thought I should honour him today with one of my traditional top lists! So, let me introduce you my 10 most favourite Bernard Herrmann scores! Of course, that was a most difficult exercise as he was a master of music. I had to change the order of my top many times.
Before continuing, remember that these are my personal favourite ones, so it’s purely subjective. You obviously can’t contest my personal tastes. 😉
Ok, here we go!
10. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
Ah! How can we forget this haunting music regrouping strings only?! The shower scene is not the most “melodious” Bernard Hermann moment, but probably the one people will remember the most.
9. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
As much as I’m not THAT much a fan of this film (despite the fact that it is considered the best movie of all times and blablabla), there are TWO things that I love enormously about it, one of them being the music (the other one being Joseph Cotten). I love how it is at the time very sinister or very joyful. Typical Herrmann!
8.The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956)
My favourite Hitchcock’s film! And certainly one of my favourite Bernard Herrmann scores! It’s so orchestral, I love it! You unfortunately won’t hear it in this clip, but, during the film, there are some notes that remind us a lot of Vertigo‘s score that Herrmann will compose two years later. Of course, we all remember Herrmann’s cameo in the film! 🙂
7. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
Without being Hitchcock’s best film, one can’t deny that this is among Herrmann’s best scores! Actually, it might be the best thing about this film. I absolutely love it.
6. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
When those notes start, you know you are in for something special! Somehow, I can always see Carlotta Valdes’s portrait when I hear this music or the famous dream sequence. A team work between Hitchcock and Hermann always creates prodigies! Another film that is considered “the best of all times” and, once again, Bernard Herrmann had the chance to be part of the team!
5. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
As far as I can remember, North by Northwest has always been one of my very favourite music scores. It succeeds to so perfectly capture the attention of the viewers. Once again, one can perfectly visualize the film in his/her head while listening to this GREAT score!
4. Jane Eyre (Robert Stevenson, 1944)
I must be honest, I didn’t become familiar with that score until… well today. The reason is that I’ve seen the movie only once and quite a long time ago, so let’s say the music was not necessarily fresh in my memory! But when I was re-listening to some of the Herrmann scores, I discovered how great it was! I just can’t believe I haven’t took the time to listen to it more carefully before. It’s just ace! Somehow, I can visualize the movie in my head when I listen to it. It truly makes me want to watch it again! 4m14 – 4m30: this moment is absolutely terrifying, but great!
3. The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951)
That is THE sound of science-fiction! My favourite sci-fi film and very probably my favourite music score for a sci-fi film. In this score, we can hear both acoustic and electronic instruments, including two Theremins, which create those typical sounds from outer space.
2. Obsession (Brian de Palma, 1976)
It goes without saying, I am obsessed with this film score (ouuuu!). It’s just spellbinding. I especially love the first minutes of it. I can always see the scene where Cliff Robertson throws the suitcase with the money on the street or that unforgettable final scene… For a movie that is very similar to Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann was of course the ultimate choice for the music!
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
Ah, the last and ultimate Bernard Herrman’s score! From Citizen Kane (his first movie music score) to Taxi Driver (his last), he proved to be an absolute musical master. Taxi Driver‘s music is so mesmerizing and fits perfectly the dark New-Yorkian atmosphere of the film. It sort of makes me want to take saxophone lessons!
Well, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed! Of course, don’t hesitate to share your personal favourites in the comment section!
As I told you during last year’s edition of the Golden Boy Blogathon, William Holden is an actor I snub for a much too long time, and he finally became my 2nd favourite actor (behind James Stewart). In the text tribute I wrote in his honour, I explained how he became one of my most favourite actors, why I love him, etc. Today, in honour of what would have been his 99th birthday, I wanted to do something similar, but different of course. I didn’t really feel like doing a movie review or focus on only one of William Holden’s performances. So, I thought it would be fun to present you my favourite William Holden movie moments! I once thought of doing this with my favourite movie moments in general, but this was too difficult. So, why not focus on a more precise subject? Why not William Holden? These are all movies moments that make me love and admire our Golden Boy more and more. Moments that make me recognize, not only his talent but that also make me be fond of him and realize how he can be so appreciated. Moments that makes him one of a kind. In other words, these will be various. It could be funny, sad, serious moment, it doesn’t really matter.
I’ll present these in chronological order (according to the movie) and will try as much as possible to give an explanation to why each of these moments is a favourite.
By the way, I prefer calling them “moments” instead of “scenes” because these can last only a few seconds.
Ok, here we go!
Golden Boy ( Rouben Mamoulian, 1939)
His first entrance: When our Golden Boy first put the foot on the imaginary side of the movie industry. Well, not exactly has he had minor roles in two other films before but was uncredited. Anyway, that was the first time we were seeing him in a way to remember. The William Holden of Golden Boy was young, only 21, with an innocent look on his face and curly hair. What I absolutely love about this entrance is that it is a very spontaneous one. He interrupts Barbara Stanwyck and Adolf Menjou, who are about to kiss each other, by entering in the room in quite an energetic way. A remarkable entrance indeed!
When he plays the violin: I love these moments (because there are more than one) because he expresses a beautiful vulnerability that we often find in some of his early roles. There’s a lot of sensibility in him and we can feel the emotions through his closed eyes.
Every time he says “papa”: Well, I just think that’s sweet. It makes a change from the usual “daddy”, “dad”, “father”, etc. I call my dad papa! (Well, I’m francophone so it’s normal). It’s also a good way to show the Italian blood of his character. Oh, and that’s one thing I like about Joe Bonaparte, because I have Italian blood too!
When they sing “Funiculi Funicula” : Ok, that’s not only a “William Holden moment” as it involves all his family in the film, plus Barbara Stanwyck, but it’s one that I couldn’t overlook because it’s so much fun! Despite Golden Boy being a drama, it contains its moments of joy like this one where Lorna Moon (Barbara Stanwyck) is invited in Joe’s Italian family for supper. After eating, they decide to play music and joyfully sing “Funiculi Funicula”. You really wish you were here with them because they seem to have a really great time!
Our Town (Sam Wood, 1940)
When he cries… : In this scene, George (William Holden)’s father tells him that his mother had to chop wood because he forgot to. Full of remorse, he starts to cry quietly. Poor Bill! 😥 This is both a sad and beautiful scene as it shows the vulnerability of his character and proves us that men can cry too! And they have the right to!
The Remarkable Andrew (Stuart Heisler, 1942)
When he does his morning exercise at the beginning of the film: this scene makes me laugh so much. He’s just so adorable and funny, especially when he jumps around the room like a frog. Hahaha! He also does some weird sounds with his mouth, which makes the thing even more hilarious than it already is.
Just look at the beginning of this clip for this scene!
When Andrew Jackson asks him for a drink and he offers him some grape juice: Ok, I didn’t remember this scene much, because I haven’t seen the film for a long time, but I read about it in my old William Holden Marathon article. Well, it goes without saying that this is completely adorable. William Holden was so young then!
You’ll find the moment in this clip from 3: 20 to 4: 08
Dear Ruth (William D. Russell, 1947)
Every time he kisses Joan Caulfield spontaneously : This film certainly is the funniest of Holden’s films (in my opinion). He is so in love with Ruth (Caulfield) that his best way to express it is by kissing her all the times, everywhere. This gives us some hilarious moments and we certainly wished we could exchange places with Caulfield. 😉
I, unfortunately, couldn’t find a clip or a picture from these precise kissing moments, so here is a photo of them together.
Father is a Bachelor (Abby Berlin and Norma Foster, 1950)
When he sings : Unfortunately, his voice was doubled (which is kind of odd, since I’ve been told that he had a fine singing voice), but, despite that, it remains something delightful. We don’t often see a “musical” Holden so that certainly is our chance. The singing moments are joyful ones and make this film the perfect family movie!
When he smiles to the old maid he is supposed to marry (not a very enthusiatic smile) : Toward the end of the film, he is supposed to marry one of the Cassin sisters in order to keep the poor Chalotte children under his guardianship. To determine which lady will marry him, they play a game of cricket. When Adealine wins, the smiles that Johnny (Holden) gives her is so forced and mixed with disgust that it automatically makes you burst into laughs. And it’s meant to as this film is a comedy! Believe it or not, Bill’s smiles are not always charming ones. 😉
When he makes a dress for May : By accident, Johnny burns little May’s dress. To fix his mess, he decides to confection one himself. He pretends he can, but that’s obviously untrue! The creating process, as well as the results, are pretty catastrophic and amusing. Poor May! Luckily, Johnny eventually manages to obtain a real pretty dress.
Sunset Blvd (Billy Wilder, 1950)
When he kisses Nancy Olson on the nose: What I like about the scenes between Holden and Olson in this film is that, just like this one proves it, they are so sweet and simple. A kiss on the nose! Can you think of something lovelier?
When he and Nancy are being theatrical “life!… can be beautiful”: In this false theatrical moment, Betty (Olson) and Joe (Holden) seem to be playing a scene from one of Joe’s films (but we are not 100 % sure). The theatricality is so intentionally exaggerated that it makes us feel the fun that these two can have together. I obviously think that Nancy Olson was one of the actresses with whom Bill had the best on-screen chemistry.
When he interrupts Max who is playing organ: Joe is angry in this scene as his luggage have been moved to his guest room (and he has NO intention to stay). He goes downstairs to ask Max (Erich von Stroheim) who did. This one is playing organ very loudly (what a pleasant way to be awake (!)). What I like about this scene is when he tells him “Hey you! Max, whatever your name is.” This pretty much sums up his anger and the esteem he has for Max (!)… Also, Max doesn’t stop playing which makes us understand the delightful arrogance of his character!
His final smile: I don’t remember so much from this film (remember it was a good one), but this smile he does at the end is one I didn’t forget. It’s such a sweet and contagious one! The typical Golden Boy smile, you know!
Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953)
When he discovers the guilty man and says “Ach so!” : This reminds me of my German classes as my teacher was saying that all the time. In this scene, he kinds of imitate Sgt. Johann Schulz (Sig Ruman) who is always saying that as well. We feel he is quite amused and satisfied as he will no longer be the accused one.
When he cooks an egg: Just because this egg is cooked with so much style!
Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1953)
When he tries to guess who this beautiful lady is (Sabrina): When Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) comes back from Paris, she is waiting at the train station for her father who is supposed to pick her. David (William Holden) who is driving by suddenly stops because this beautiful lady certainly grabs his attention. He doesn’t know that she is Sabrina, the daughter of his family’s chauffeur, who has secretly always been in love with him. He offers her a lift and tries to guess who she is. We and Sabrina are obviously quite amused by the situation and things become even more priceless when he finally discovers her real identity. To think that he ignored her all these years!
When he dances with Sabrina: That’s a beautiful moment full of tenderness and, one more time, we wish we could exchange places with Holden’s female co-star.
When he sits down on a glass: To prevent his brother to go dance with Sabrina (and spoil his engagement to Elizabeth Tyson), Linus (Humphrey Bogart) invites him to sit on a chair where he has put a glass. Poor David! The glass obviously breaks when he sits down on it and he is in for a long convalescence. We feel sorry for David, but we certainly can’t avoid a few laughs!
When he falls on his butt but after sitting on the glasses: During his convalescence, David is once again hurt by falling on his already damaged butt. Another hilarious moment that proves that Holden had a perfect comedic timing.
THAT SMILE when Audrey Hepburn arrives at the ball: Once again, that’s a typical Golden Holden smile and it’s perfectly adorable. But who wouldn’t smile at the sight of Audrey Hepburn?
The Bridges at Toko-Ri (Mark Robson, 1954)
When Grace Kelly waves at him and he waves back from the boat (the smiles): A quick but sweet romantic moment that perfectly expresses the love that these two have for each other.
The Country Girl (George Seaton, 1954)
When he kisses Grace Kelly passionately: On my! There’s full of passion indeed, but also tension in this scene. They are quarreling and he suddenly kisses her. Well, we’re not sure at first if it’s a way to express his love for her or if it’s just a way to make her shut up, but, no matter what, it remains an unforgettable moment that leaves you speechless.
When he becomes a vampire: I don’t remember much from this film, but this scene is one that nobody forgets. The theatrical acting is so exaggerated (in an intentional way) and the make-up is so cartoonish. It makes this moment an unforgettable one. And a purple vampire! :O (strange)
When he says “If they move, kill ’em!”: Wow! That’s a good way to chill our blood. This line is said without any pity and it immediately gives us the mood of the film. It also makes us realise that we are now far from the sweet Joe Bonaparte of Golden Boy.
Look at 2:10 to 2: 14 of this clip for this short line!
Every time he says let’s go: Robert Ryan says it too. It’s kind of something that unconsciously connects them. “Let’s go” is not something that seems quite extraordinary to say, but as it is said all the time in this film, it kind of became an iconic line(s). They even made a T-shirt out of it! 😉
When he waves at Robert Ryan with his hat just before the bridge explodes: We (the spectators) know exactly what is going to happen so we can’t help anticipating this moment. This waving is full of arrogance which, one more time, perfectly shows us the nature of Pike Bishop (Holden).
The most beautiful lines of the film: When the two lovers find each other back at the end of the film, he tells her: “Hello, my love”, to what Breezy (Kay Lenz) answers “Hello, my life.” This is just one of the most beautiful moments from the film and it agreeably makes you sigh.
When he welcomes Paul Newman and they shake hands: Hum, nothing so extraordinary about that, but I guess I just like the idea of Holden and Newman shaking hands. Plus, this one is effectuate with an admirable determination. We like that.
When he feels guilty: It takes long before Jim Duncan (Holden) realises the extent of the catastrophe, but, when he does, he obviously feels guilty about it. He does that little move with his chin (a typical Holden gesture) and we almost have the feeling he is trying not to cry. Anyway, he looks very sad and that just breaks my heart. 😥
When he punches Richard Chamberlain in the stomach : I know, violence is bad, but here I can’t help approving of this moment, because Roger Simmons (Chamberlain) certainly is one of the most annoying movie characters of all times.
These are, of course, not all the William Holden’s movies I’ve seen, there are 14 more… And I probably have many other favourite moments that I’m not thinking of right now. You are more than welcomed to share yours with me and that might be a good way to refresh my memory!
To read the other wonderful entries for this blogathon, please click here.
This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This was my journal entry on Poitín (week 5).
I’m a bit mitigated on Poitín. This certainly was a film out of the common and, for our class; this was the first one I felt was very and only Irish. This 1978’s film was the first one to be shot strictly in Irish. It also was directed by Irish film director Bob Quinn. This creates an opposition with, for example, The Quiet Man, which is an American film directed by an American, but that takes place in Ireland. Poitín is a reference to a traditional Irish alcoholic beverage.
Despite showing us typical Irish landscapes like The Quiet Man does, Poitín is faithful to the 70s and the grow of screen violence during this decade (and the ones to follow). We, somehow, feel closer to the people or Ireland, and these ones seem to be presented to us as they are, without any embellishment. Of course, this is just a film, but it allows us to make a distinction between nostalgic movies like The Quiet Man and those who seem closer to reality like Poitín.
By the way the characters are dressed, without any extravagances, and the types of landscapes we see, I could also notice a certain connection with Man of Aran. I feel as Poitín is a very Irish film, meaning that it might not be cited as a universal one (like many Hollywood movies are) and, therefore, the story might not necessarily reach everybody. However, it remains an interesting cultural object of Ireland for those who are curious and those who are precisely studying Irish cinema.
On a side note, where I had more difficulty with the film is the fact that it was in Irish and, yes, we had subtitles, but, stupidly enough, the heads of people in front of me were sometimes hiding those subtitles and, because of that, I couldn’t catch everything properly and, as a result, I lost a certain interest in the film at a certain point. But I feel it’s this kind of film that deserves to be seen more than once to be understood better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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!
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.
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!
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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?…
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! 😉
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!
The 70s was THE golden decade for catastrophe movies. Some of the best ones were made back then. Think of Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and, of course, The Towering Inferno. It’s on this one, release in 1974, that we will concentrate today.
The Towering Inferno was produced by Irwin Allen, known as the “Master of Disaster” (also produced The Poseidon Adventure), and directed by John Guillermin. Note: Irwin Allen directed the action scenes. The film, written by Stirling Silliphant, was a fusion of two books: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson.
The interesting thing is, before Irwin Allen at Fox had time to buy the rights of The Tower, Warner Bros. had already done so. Allen then got interested by The Glass Inferno and bought the rights. But instead of producing two movies that will obviously be very similar and be in competition, Fox and Warner decided to make a team and fused the two books together in one movie that became The Towering Inferno. It was the first collaboration between two major studios.
The Towering Inferno was obviously a big budget film, with its ton of special effects and, most of all, its all-star cast: Paul Newman, Steven McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, Richard Chamberlain, O.J Simpson, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, etc. A real Hollywood dream. The film cost around $14 000 000 to produce (around $68 000 000 today) and was a big commercial success, winning around $140 000 000 at the world box office on it’ release ($678 000 000 today). Being one of the most entertaining movies of all times, and with such a cast, the success was assured.
However, the critical reception was more mitigated. It generally was good, but was mostly criticized by builders for some inaccuracies.
Despite that, The Towering Inferno won the Oscar for Best Cinematography (Fred J. Koenekamp, Joseph F. Biroc), Best Film Editing (Harold F. Kress, Carl Kress) and Best Original Song for “We May Never Love Like this Again” (Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn). It was nominated for Best Picture (Irwin Allen), Best Supporting Actor (Fred Astaire), Best Production Design (William J. Creber, Ward Preston, and Raphael Bretton), Best Original Score (John Williams) and Best Sound Mixing (Theodore Soderberg and Herman Lewis).
Ok, I’m talking a lot about this film’s production and reception, but it’s because there’s a lot to say. But before I’ll go further with my own appreciation of The Towering Inferno, let me resume the movie briefly for those who haven’t seen it.
Like most catastrophe movies, it’s pretty easy to explain: A new glass high-rise has just been built in San Francisco. It’s the tallest building in the world. Architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) is back in town for its inauguration. Once arrived, he meets the builder James Duncan (William Holden). However, on the same day of the inauguration, a short-circuit produced at the 81 floor causes a fire. Roberts accuses Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), the electrical engineer, of being responsible. The ceremony takes place on the 135th floor, the last one. All those people will have to be evacuated before the fire kills them all. They will be helped by the courageous Michael O’Halloran (Steve McQueen), SFFD 5th Battalion Chief, and his team of firemen.
As you can see, it’s highly stressful.
What I found very interesting about the narrative lines of this film is how the spectator (us) sees the fire breaks before any character of the movies. Paul Newman & Co are looking for it in the building, but we know where it is before them and we see it growing. The suspense is perfectly established and the tension is more and more intense as the time passes.
The Towering Inferno is a movie I love, it’s a movie that worked well but, it’s not either a “masterpiece”. It has its faults. So, before talking all good about it, we will start by getting rid of these little imperfections.
First, sometimes, it’s too much. Well, I’m particularly thinking of this scene when [SPOILER] Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner), the Public Relations Officer, and his secretary, Lorrie (Susan Flannery) are caught in the fire and eventually die. It is somehow too dramatic, with the big music, the slow motion, Lorrie who becomes crazy, etc. It somehow becomes funny. I’m sorry, but I didn’t cry in this scene. [End of spoilers]
It contains some catastrophe movies clichés. One of the best examples is, [spoiler] the cute couple who is separated by death. [end of spoiler]
And, something that I always found strange is why they didn’t show us reactions from people from the outside? I mean, this building is obviously in a popular neighbourhood of San Francisco, there’s obviously people walking in the streets. And when you see a building on fire, your first reaction is normally to stop and wonder what’s happening. The movie is mainly concentrated on the victims and the firemen, but I think it would have been interesting if we would have seen reaction shots of the simple witnesses.
But let’s stop this here because there’s also many good things to say about The Towering Inferno.
First, the cast. The cast is spectacular. In my opinion (and that’s just my opinion)… Ok, I was about to say ” the best performances were given by…” and then I realized I was about to name almost everybody. However, I can’t say I’ve been impressed by Richard Chamberlain (maybe because his character annoys me too much. I know it’s not a good reason), Robert Wagner or Susan Flannery. They were not bad and I know some can think they were great, but just not my favourites.
I can no talk about all the actors and all the performances, but let me give you an overview of my favourites.
Teaming Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, two of the most popular stars in the 70s, wasn’t a small thing. Initially, Ernest Borgnine was supposed to play the fireman and Steve McQueen was supposed to play the architect. He, however, preferred the other role and was cast as the fireman. Paul Newman was then cast as the architect. Things went fair for the two actors as they were both given the same exact number of lines and both received top billings. On the set, it was a friendly competition. Paul Newman and Steve McQueen are two actors that have a similar acting touch. They act with no pretension and are convincing by reminding simple. I’m more familiar with Paul Newman, but, in this film, I can’t say if I prefer Paul or Steve. They were both brilliant. I have to say I love this moment at the beginning when Paul Newman is introduced to us in the helicopter with his 70s style sunglasses. Such a badass!
Faye Dunaway was known as a difficult actress and often arrived late on the set (which highly annoyed William Holden), but despite that, she could only add good to this film as she had talent. Of course, her Susan Franklin is not as good as her Bonnie Parker or her Diana Christensen, but her performance remains one of the bests in the film. And Faye has always been a personal favourite of mine.
William Holden. Ah, William Holden! Well, I have to say that he is the main reason why I decided to watch The Towering Inferno for the first time (he is my second favourite actor after all)! Bill, even if he was getting older, had not lost his irresistible smile and his beautiful blue eyes. It might not be his most memorable performance, but I can’t help loving him as I love him in all his films. As I often said, William Holden was an actor full of sensibility and (subtlety). He never overacts and is always so hypnotizing. There’s this moment when he does a typical William Holden reaction and that’s perfect: toward the end, after he has spoken to Paul Newman, we can see he’s feeling guilty of what is happening. He has sad eyes and, I don’t know if you ever noticed that, but Bill sometimes does this little move with his chin and his mouth just like if he was trying not to cry. Breaks my heart!! 😥
Susan Blakely as Patty Simmons (Roger Simmons’s wife and James Duncan’s daughter) is an actress I had never heard of before. But hey, she’s cool! She is very touching and I think she inspires wisdom. At least, in this film. An intriguing and beautiful lady!
I will wrap up this actors section with Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones. It’s not surprising that Fred was nominated for Best Supporting actor. He is awesome! We are not only amazed by the way he acts, but also by the way he moves! We can see he was a professional dancer 😉 At 75, he still had an incredible posture. And Jennifer Jones, she is lovely as ever and also had an incredible energy. Unfortunately, it was her last film (not because she died, but because she simply decided to retire from acting in Hollywood). The two actors have a contagious chemistry and I think they made the best team of the film. I love when they dance together! (even if it lasts about 20 seconds…)
Bonus: I’ve always liked the character of Mark Powers, the fireman played by Ernie F. Orsatti. He is the young, cute fireman with not a lot of experience. He is scared at the beginning, but finds courage and becomes a hero. I also love Carlos, the barman played by Gregory Sierra. He probably is the most sympathetic character of them all.
Something I find priceless about the actors are some of their reactions. I’ve previously talked about the William Holden’s sad guilty face, but here are some other of my favourites: When Paul Newman speaks on the phone with William Holden and literally lost his temper: “WE’VE GOT A FIRE HERE!”; when William Holden punches Richard Chamberlain in the stomach (I might sound sadic, but this was deserved. #GoBill); when the two firemen, Scott (Felton Perry) and Mark (Ernie F. Orsatti) realize which building is on fire, etc.
Once again, I’m talking too much about the actors: I love the world of acting 😉
The Towering Inferno was also brilliant for many of its technical aspects. The special effects are incredibly impressive. You might not know this, but real fire was used in the filming. So, the cast and crew basically put themselves in danger to produce this film. It was an audacious thing to do and it worked successfully.
For its cinematography and its editing, The Towering Inferno also was at the top. Surely, what we remember the most from the cinematography is how the building on fire was filmed, but one scene that particularly caught my attention is when the first twelve selected women (including Jennifer Jones and Faye Dunaway) are in the glass elevator. The clear-obscure light is very beautiful, but also very strange. It inspires a moment of calm before the tempest.
We also have impressive aerial views of San Francisco at the beginning of the film. The city and its area are seen from Paul Newman’s helicopter’s point of view.
It’s hard to imagine how The Towering Inferno was filmed. Around 50 sets were used (most of them were burned for the cause of the film). But the job was done and that’s why Irwin Allen was the Master of Disaster.
And I bet it was not only a difficult movie to produce for its action and its special effects, but also for having to deal with all those top stars (no pressure…).
In the 70s, John Williams was starting to build himself a name as one of the most brilliant composers of Hollywood’s new generation. His score for Jaws is probably his most well-known one from the 70s, but his score for The Towering Inferno is unforgettable too. With those aerial shots I was talking about, it makes the movie starts in a very dynamic way. It’s an epic score that fits perfectly the atmosphere of the film or any catastrophe movie. It’s the sound of panic on a hot nightmare. No wonder why he received an Oscar nomination. He lost to Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola for The Godfather Part II. Were also nominated this year Jerry Goldsmith for Chinatown, Alex North for Shanks and Richard Rodney Bennett for Murder On the Orient Express. Ok, the competition was hard, and that’s one of these moments when you’d like to give the award to everybody.
Even if The Towering Inferno is a dramatic movie, it contains some moments of humour. Those are rare, very rare, but are highly appreciated. The first one I think about is when Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner) arrives in James Ducan’s office. Duncan is here with Roberts and engineer Will Giddings (Norman Burton). Dan is all happy and proud to show them the giant scissors to cut the ribbon at the inauguration of the glass tower. But when he shows them the scissors, nobody reacts, everybody seems concerned and somehow depress to what he says: “What happened? Somebody hang a wallpaper upside down?” This really makes me laugh. Then they tell him a fire might be burning in the building…
There’s also this very sympathetic scene when Harry Jernigan (O.J Simpson), the Chief Security Officer, save Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones)’s cat from the flames.
There’s so much to say about The Towering Inferno! And if you’re still curious to know more about it, I highly recommend you to watch this very interesting mini-documentary on its making. Just for Paul Newman’s bloopers, it’s worthy! Here is part 1 of 2 (you’ll find the other one easily):
The Towering Inferno was not only one the best catastrophe movies ever made, but also a majestic tribute to firemen. It’s a movie that makes you realize how this is a hard and courageous profession.
So, if you’re in for 2h30 of pure thrill and entertainment, The Towering Inferno is for you. I assure you, you won’t be bored a minute and will admire every moment of it for everything I’ve previously said in this article.