Setter’s ‘Spectives: Driving Along With Spielberg’s ‘Duel’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Would you believe I’d never seen the Steven Spielberg movie Duel until last night?

A real shame, huh? Especially considering the fact that I’ve seen a host of other films helmed by the master director.

Duel, the story of an average businessman’s encounter with a homicidal, unseen truck driver on the lonely roads of California, was very tense and suspenseful. Great editing and cinematography, making the most of a tight script that was only hindered by a few bursts of internal monologues here and there … which it didn’t need.

I liked this movie a lot, and it was interesting to see such a strong picture so early in Spielberg’s career (the movie debuted in 1971). I’m not sure I’d want to watch it again; it’s not clear how the suspense and thrills will hold up. But it remains a well-crafted movie.

What film will come next for me? Only the screen has the answer.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Is ‘The 39 Steps’ Hitchcock’s Best Movie?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I don’t know, but I sure like it a heckuva lot.

What I wanna know is: Why doesn’t The 39 Steps get old or creaky? It’s just as fast-paced and fun as ever, with crackling dialogue, amusing performances (especially from Robert Donat … what a talent) and brilliant cinematography, which provides a wonderful snapshot of the old British music-hall entertainments.

Frankly, I can’t get enough of this flick.

I realized Hitch honed his craft greatly following Steps, providing much slicker pictures, but there’s something about this 1935 charmer that keeps me watching the screen when it’s on. There was a time when I preferred The Lady Vanishes to it, but now I’m not so sure. And there’s a seminal quality to Steps as well … it’s one of the films that introduced Hitchcock’s whole “wrong man” oeuvre to audiences, and there’s something to be said for that.

I’ll tell you something: I’m walkin’ these steps for as long as they’re around.

Skip’s Quips: The Verdict on ‘Argo’ Is … Pretty Smooth Sailing

Blog Sketch 082813I somehow knew Argo was going to be good, yet for no apparent reason I’ve been avoiding it.

Until last night. Saw it for the first time. And you know what? It’s a more than decent suspenser. OK, as a friend noted, there were too many “ticking clocks.” But it was tense enough, with sharp direction from Ben Affleck, who also starred in the film. There were also good turns from Alan Arkin, who was a hoot as a cynical yet patriotic producer, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston. Cinematography and editing were solid; perhaps there was a bit too much herky-jerkiness with the camera. All in all, though, it was quite well done.

I’m not usually a big fan of Affleck’s work; as an actor, I find him rather mannered. But in this movie, he was relatively subdued, and it worked nicely. I hope his next opus will be just as strong.

Skip’s Quips: Remembrance of Scares Past

Blog Sketch 082813Way back when, while I was still in college (so this is really back when), I attended a showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window at the campus theater. I’d seen it before, but I was interested in observing how other people reacted to it, given its age and lack of profanity, graphic violence or anything else that might draw a contemporary audience.

I settled into my uncomfortable, non-stadium seating chair. So did everyone else. The movie started. We watched.

And then we got to the part where Grace Kelly’s Lisa is wiggling her finger to show Jimmy Stewart’s Jeff—who is watching from his window across the courtyard—that she has the ring once owned by the wife of Raymond Burr’s murderous Lars Thorwald. Thorwald notices what she’s doing. Gradually, he looks up at the camera. At us.

“Aaaaaaaahhhhh!” screamed the audience.

Yep. Quintessential movie moment. Proof that great films, no matter how old they are, can still affect people. And Rear Window is a great one.

This seemingly trivial incident made me happy. It was like the train in silents of old coming at you onscreen and scaring the daylights of everyone in the theater. The flick is so good that the audience believed it was there with Jimmy in his apartment, looking into places he wasn’t supposed to. This despite the old-time New York of the 1950s depicted in the movie. This despite the film’s age. This despite the lack of swearing or blood-squibby gunfights or … well, it did actually have a steamy interlude: that great, slow-motion kiss that Kelly and Stewart have at the beginning. And there was quite a lot of innuendo, in the manner typical of Hitch.

But this wasn’t beat-you-over-the-head filmmaking. This was director-in-control stuff.  And it had the right effect: making everyone watching it shriek. In joy, of course, like the shriek you expel while riding a roller-coaster. A true movie shriek.

One of these days, I’ll have to go see Rear Window again in the theater to observe how people react now. I suspect it will be similar. Great films don’t date; they remain pertinent forever. So viewers will scream afresh … as long as Thorwald looks at them in recognition.

That’s the kind of scream we need more of at the movies.