Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tom Cruise does Hitchcock

Tom Cruise's hair gave the performance of its career in John Woo's Mission: Impossible-2.  That Tom Cruise action sequel is a flat-out remake of an Alfred Hitchcock classic.  But, it seemed like the movie studio was hoping we wouldn't notice.  Redoing Hitchcock classics is nothing new.  There was that flop remake of Psycho starring Anne Heche in the role that got Janet Leigh an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  Disturbia was an entertaining suburban thriller starring that young actor whose name sounds like tonight's special in a French restaurant.  Shia LaBeouf took on the James Stewart role in this younger take on Hitchcock's Rear Window.

In its promotion, it was mentioned that it was new look at Rear Window.  Jodie Foster starred in a new version of a 1938 Hitchcock mystery/thriller starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave.  Flightplan was basically The Little Lady Vanishes.  In Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, an older woman disappears on a train en route from a Germanic location.  In Flightplan, a traveler's little girl vanishes while they're in flight from Berlin. In both films, passengers claim not to have seen the female who disappeared.  The Margaret Lockwood and Jodie Foster characters prove that something's wrong.

Now we come to that Tom Cruise workout video called Mission: Impossible-2.

He can dangle from your rocks. He can ride a motorcycle.  He can spin, kick, shoot.  But can he be as good as Cary Grant?  I saw this movie in a big Manhattan cineplex with a preview audience.  I'd be reviewing the movie on a New York City television show.  I sat next to a CBS entertainment journalist who'd be reviewing it on a network news program.  About 20 minutes into the movie, I said to myself "This is a remake of Notorious!"  But no reference to the Ben Hecht screenplay for the 1946 Hitchcock film was in the opening credits.  That was very curious to me.  In TV specials about the special Hitchcock filmmaking touch, you will definitely see clips of  Rear Window and from Notorious.  That thriller/love story, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, contains some of the famed director's most iconic scenes.

If you've seen Notorious, follow me on this:  After the opening courthouse scene, we see Ingrid Bergman as sophisticated Alicia Huberman tossing a Miami cocktail party.  She's a "notorious" woman.  She likes to drink. She likes men.  Especially older men.  She's no virgin.  There's a bit of self-loathing in this free spirit.  She's known romantic disappointment.  As she says, "There's nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh."  Unlike her father, Alicia is a patriot.  He supported the swastika side.  That's why she was at court.  Mr. Huberman was on trial.  Alicia hated her father.  She loves America.  She wants to put this family darkness behind her, but she's soon to be approached to do some espionage work for Uncle Sam.  Cary Grant is the handsome stranger at her party.

Even though she's had a few too many, they go for a drive.  She's behind the wheel.  He watches her.  So does a motorcycle cop.  The cop gives chase because she's going over the speed limit.  He pulls her over. BUT...handsome Cary hands the cop identification from his pocket.  The cop salutes.  The handsome stranger is a federal agent.  The high speed chase leads Alicia to discover she's been trailed by the Feds.  She's angry.

Handsome hero. Notorious woman.  Speeding car.  Revelation.  Conflict.  Dig this scene with Tom Cruise and leading lady Thandie Newton in Mission: Impossible-2.

The CBS reporter whispered in my ear that Cruise's movie was exciting.  I whispered back, "Yeah.  I bet there's a racetrack scene coming up."  In Notorious, there's the famous scene in which Alicia, in love with the caustic federal agent, passes information to him at the racetrack.  They're being watched by the man the Feds hope to bring down.

There was, indeed, a racetrack scene with Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton while the bad guy watched.  Of course, the screenplay was tailored to suit Tom Cruise but it was basically Notorious.  The woman with a past is recruited to help smoke out a global villain by rekindling his romantic interest in her.  He loved her more than she loved him.  She falls for the hero (Tom) and, near the end, gets a poison in her system.  I like Robert Towne.  I interviewed him once on my old VH1 talk show.  He's an excellent screenwriter.  One of my Top 10 Favorite Movies of All-Time was written by him -- Chinatown.  But that action movie sequel script of his for director John Woo and Mr. Cruise was not an original idea.  Some screen credit should've also been given to Ben Hecht.

Oh!  And who shows up in an unbilled cameo?  Anthony Hopkins as the big boss to Tom Cruise's character.  He has a slightly snarky attitude towards the woman helping the organization because of her sexual and legal past.  Sound familiar?

Anthony Hopkins is the 2000 version of the Louis Calhern character in Notorious.

I've seen this Hitchcock classic countless times.  Ingrid Bergman won three Oscars in her acting career -- two for Best Actress and one for Best Supporting Actress.  She wasn't even nominated for Notorious and it's one of the peaks of her Hollywood film career.  For sentimental reasons, my generation always swooned at her work in Casablanca and gave it legendary status.  She is luminous as Ilsa in the 1943 movie.  However, Alicia is a much more complicated role and a bold female lead character for a 1940s film.  This was made at a time when Hollywood portrayed virginity as being a key ingredient to a woman's worth.  It was major currency in her character.  Alicia Huberman wasn't a widow.  The single woman had lovers in her past.  A strong feminist core runs through Notorious.  The Boys' Club of Federal Agents doesn't regard her as "a lady," but she's doing the hardest and most physically dangerous work in this mission.  When only the men are in the office, Paul Prescott (Calhern) makes a snide remark about her reputation.  This irritates his employee, Devlin.  Dev calls them on their chauvinism.  The Feds want to infiltrate a nest of Nazis still in operation.  One, Alex Sebastian, had a major yen for Alicia.  It wasn't mutual.  But the Feds recruit Alicia to prove her patriotism by starting a fake romance with Alex that goes as far as and includes the bedroom.  Alex had great respect for Alicia's traitor father.  Her assignment is in South America.  One more thing -- when she's not busy bangin' a Nazi, she's got to memorize all the names of his Nazi buddies who come over for dinner and secretly relay all this information back to Devlin (Cary Grant).

Alicia Huberman, the young beauty who likes liquor and older men, does her duty for the U.S.A.  She has no gun.  No protection.  She's armed with just her keen intellect and her sexuality.  She is actively engaged in her mission.  The men give orders while seated in a comfortable and safe office.  At one point, the Louis Calhern character gives more instructions to Devlin for Alicia while he's lying down on a bed and eating cheese and crackers.  Alicia is smack-dab in the middle of that nest of Nazis.  She marries Alex.

Another brilliant touch -- while on duty for the Feds, Alicia cannot drink they way she used to because it would just be too dangerous in her work as an American agent.

We always think of coffee as being the antidote for a hangover.  In Hitchcock's hands, it's the coffee that puts her out of commission more so than any cocktails ever did.  Her coffee has been laced with poison.  Devlin initially assumes she's got a hangover.  Cary Grant is at his best as a bad-ass, by-the-book agent.  On the surface, he's not very likable but Grant expertly shows us there's something inside, some emotion, that Devlin tries hard to keep hidden.  We will see that he's "...a fat-headed guy, full of pain."  Alicia is a woman he cannot keep treating like a second-class citizen.  Hitchcock's Notorious is a thriller...and a love story.  Alicia and Devlin are redeemed by love.

If you've never seen Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, do yourself a favor and rent it.  It's hard to believe this film did not bring 3-time Oscar winner Bergman a Best Actress nomination.  She's outstanding here and it's a masterful screen performance.  For classic film fans ... and for new filmmakers...there's juicy production information in the DVD commentary from the Criterion Collection.

And I love the intelligent screenplay by Ben Hecht.  Obviously, so does Robert Towne.  Notorious brought Ben Hecht an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay of 1946.


  1. In The Net with Sandra Bullock, there's also a nod to Notorious. Jeremy Northam's character is named Devlin and in a beach scene Sandra Bullock is wearing a cropped top and Jeremy Northam covers her midriff with a handkerchief, just like in Notorious.

  2. Cool! I have never seen THE NET. Barbara, thanks for that tip. And thanks for taking time to read my blog piece. By the way, I'm working on a book submission for an independent publisher. Wish me luck.

  3. Thanks a lot for comment think that this post is about The Satellite Shop.


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