Archive for November, 2008


The Essential Hitchcock Dandy Villains


1.   Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) in “Notorious” (1946) – This suave Nazi, hiding out in Argentina, figures prominently in my favorite Hitchcock film, with my favorite Hitchcock actors (Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman), making him my favorite Hitchcock villain. Comfortable whether as an equestrian, dancer, or conversationalist (listen to Raines’ soft, British tenor), Alex is so courteous, witty, and unimposing, you wouldn’t mind having tea with him – even if he is poisoning his own wife. You can’t help but feel a bit sorry for the old chap when Grant and Bergman are falling in love behind his back and uncovering his secret stash of uranium (the MacGuffin in a wine bottle). Watch out for extreme mother issues.

2.   Van Damm (James Mason) in “North by Northwest” (1959) – Another Brit terrorizing Cary Grant (who is another Hitchcock dandy but more of the hero persuasion). Like Alex, the British Mason portrays Van Damm as a gentleman, who happens to be an enemy of the state with an obsession over microfilm (the MacGuffin). Van Damm and other Hitchcock villains exhibit a frequent theme in the director’s work: the evil seething beneath the calm, attractive surface. See also Hitchcock blondes. Van Damm also has a sidekick named Leonard, who has a lot of queer theory scholars talking (see Robin Wood).

3.   Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) in “Strangers on a Train” (1951) – Bruno thinks he agrees to kill unsuspecting tennis star Guy Haines’ (Farley Granger, see “Rope” for more murderous dandies) ex-wife, while Guy will kill Bruno’s overbearing father. Guess what happens. With his flamboyant style (check out that tie clip), Bruno seems a bit in love with his mother as well as with Guy, leading to those ever-present 1950’s Freudian Oedipal connections between mother-love, homosexuality, Communism, and threats to national security. A side note: I recently learned on TCM that Walker, an alcoholic, died one month after the movie’s release at the age of 32. Only when I watched it this time did he actually seem youthful to me. Is that more a reflection of my age or his?

4.   Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) in “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943) – In this re-telling of the Jack the Ripper story, the Merry Widow Murderer (Uncle Charlie) eases his way into and infects a picture-perfect small town, primarily through his niece, also named Charlie (the movie spends a lot of time presenting them as doubles or twins). This personal favorite of Hitchcock’s stars Joseph Cotten, a native of Petersburg, Va.

5.   The Lodger (Ivor Novello) in “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” (1927) – Known primarily as a romantic musical start, Novello, who was openly gay, plays against type in this silent film early in Hitchcock’s British oeuvre. Another variation on Jack the Ripper, without giving too much away, this dandy is a bit different from the others ones on this list.

Suggested reading: Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, revised edition, by Robin Wood (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).




A Long Time Ago, We Used to be Friends…

veronica_mars_-_soundtrack_2006One of my favorite TV series is Veronica Mars, which aired on the CW from 2004 to 2007 and was critically acclaimed but the victim of low ratings, a changing schedule, and lags in airings. Veronica Mars, played by Kristin Bell, is a teen detective at a San Diego-area high school (and later, college), solving both season-long and episode-long crimes, while attempting to maintain relationships with her father, friends, and boyfriends. This isn’t your typical teen show though.

Elements of film noir abound in Veronica Mars, and not just in the use of a detective character. Using first-person voice-over, Veronica is an outsider, shunned by the 09-er’s (the kids from the rich zip code), making her way through the webs of Neptune High and later Hearst College. The series also uses expressionistic mise en scene: off-kilter camera angles, light and shadow, and window blinds and rain painting faces and sets.

However, Veronica is no femme fatale, which gives the series a feminist feel. Aside from the character herself being very independent, plucky (she always has the perfect comeback), and not dressing to impress, the various episodes tackle the Lily Kane murder, the Hearst College campus rapes, and the Castle “good ol’ boys club” in the series finale.

But the important questions are: Logan or Duncan? Logan or Piz?

Veronica Mars Seasons 1 through 3 are on DVD.