I don’t know about you guys, but January can be a little ‘blah’ for me. The holidays are over, it’s back to the old grindstone, and the weather is dreary and cold.
Because of this, I like to do something special and out of the ordinary in January. Organize a family outing, read a new book… But usually I’m in a semi shocked state in January (you mean I have to go back to work?!) and in those dark chilly shocking evenings, I want nothing more than to curl up with a good movie.
Which brings me to this post. Thrillers seemed like an appropriate genre to shake us out of our January doldrums and I have lined up some doozies for your viewing pleasure!
The Man Who Knew Too Much: 1956
A family vacationing in Morocco accidentally stumble on to an assassination plot and the conspirators are determined to prevent them from interfering….by kidnapping their young son.
When I first watched this movie, I was a nervous wreck…but it was such a wonderful, tingly, kind of experience. During the end finale, I was literally hugging and biting a pillow to keep myself from completely losing it.
My favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie of all time, this movie is masterful. There’s a reason Alfred Hitchcock is called the King of Suspense, certain scenes will forever be indelibly imprinted on my brain, the way bombs leave craters behind. Jimmy Stewart thumbing through the phone book over and over and over again as he waits for a phone call to get through…that endless walk down the alley way towards the taxidermist…the dark paint coming off on Jimmy Stewarts fingers as the dead man slides free of his grasp and hits the grounds…and of course, that end scene…will she or will she not scream?
Known as a man who was ‘suspicious of words’…Alfred Hitchcock proves that words are often superfluous…instead, he thrills us with images and feelings that are utterly unforgettable.
Content: If you have high blood pressure, don’t want this movie…there is a lot of stress and one shock after another. When I first watched it I was nearly overwhelmed, imagining the danger that the little boy is placed in throughout this movie.
The Golden Salamander: 1950
British archaeologist David Redfern comes to Tunisia to catalog a collection of art relics and stumbles into evidence of a gun-smuggling racket. Hesitant at first to get involved or even to report the information, he becomes convinced he must do the right thing after a young man is murdered. By then, though, the smugglers know Redfern knows too much and they target him for death.
The Golden Salamander has every ingredient that I love; exotic locales, great acting, good dialogue, intriguing characters and a suspenseful story…all culminating in an action sequence that had me shrieking in horror. But its not over after the finale…we are given yet one more shocking reveal, in a move that keeps this film flying to the very last frame.
Of special note is Trevor Howard’s moral struggle through out this movie, which is an interesting and welcome addition to an adventure thriller. Trevor Howard has suspicions about what’s really going on around him, but he tries to turn his back on it. He has a job to do and he doesn’t want to get involved. But after reading an inscription on one of the artifacts he unearths from his archeological dig, he is convicted and jumps back into the mystery.
‘Not by ignoring evil does one overcome it, but by going to meet it.’
It’s actually quite a sobering and thought provoking moment and provides a wonderful balance of wisdom to this adventurous film.
Content: One very brief scene where the main guy and girl are lying on a beach and kissing passionately. Lots of peril and tension.
Romance and suspense ensue in Paris as a woman is pursued by several men who want a fortune her murdered husband had stolen. Who can she trust?
Called ‘the best Alfred Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made’, this movie does not disappoint. Aside from starring the amazing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, the movie is spot on in every other area. From the very beginning, we are trapped in the nerve wracking hamster ball of Audrey Hepburn’s out of control life as the events keep on escalating into one of the most thrilling end finales of all time. Audrey Hepburn’s ability to portray terror is so convincing, we feel ourselves hyperventilating with her, wondering who’s telling the truth….is anyone telling the truth?
Another movie highlight is the amazing Henry Mancini score, featuring one of my favorite songs, ‘Charade’, played hauntingly throughout the movie, often sounding like the theme from a dark, twisted, carousel ride…adding a farcical sound to this nail biting thriller, as if the score is mocking the viewer, telling you that your going as crazy as Audrey Hepburn.
The fight scene between Cary Grant and ‘The Hook’ on top of the apartment building is another favorite scene of mine because of the music…the scores simplicity is absolutely spine tingling. Instead of high octane action music…we are given long drawn out strings, a slow progression of chords…the music strains with Cary Grant as he struggles against his opponent…the music makes our own muscles burn, our own heart thud with strain…and then Cary Grant’s opponent, breaks free and lashes out with his hook…once, twice, three times…each swipe accentuated by startling piano chords. It is one beautiful case in point for how to do a suspenseful action sequence and less subtle filmmakers could learn from it.
Content: In the movie opening, Audrey’s friends says she doesn’t have to get a divorce, she can just ‘make new friends’. Audrey quickly dismisses this idea. There’s quite a bit of passionate kissing. There are several murder scenes that can be a little disturbing for some viewers (most of it is cut around, but corpses are occasional shown, but there isn’t any blood). There’s one scene in a restaurant where guests play a ‘neck game’, trying to pass another orange they have tucked under their chin to another guest without using their hands. This scene is stupid, adds nothing to the movie and is easily skipped. Audrey is tormented and frightened through out this whole movie…one scene has her trapped in a phone booth while James Coburn lights matches, holds them against her face then drops them into her lap.
There’s also a bit of macabre type humor throughout the movie. During the funeral…one of the villains walks into the church to make sure Audrey’s husband is really dead. He looks into the open casket, than jabs the corpse with a pin. The scene is actually funny and played for humor, but squeamish viewers might not appreciate it.
Take My Life: 1947
A woman races against time to clear her husband of a murder he did not commit. While she works on getting proof, the prosecution is doing all it can to force a conviction.
When we first started watching this, it was a bit of a slow start, but the longer I watched it the more I found it impossible to tear myself away from the screen, as I was pulled deeper and deeper into the nightmare that was tearing apart Greta Gynt’s life. Greta Gynt’s luminous and intelligent eyes quickly draw us into her nail biting struggle to save her husbands life, a role well played by British actor Hugh Williams.
As the stakes get higher and higher, so do our own nerves. The scene where she is playing the organ is enough to turn me into a pile of jelly, but the end finale on the train is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling sequences I have ever seen. Greta Gynt is locked in a train compartment with the murderer, but there is another traveler sitting opposite her, reading a newspaper. She thinks she is safe, that the man reading the newspaper will hear the murderer threatening her....but than she realizes that the man is deaf and he neither hears nor sees her being dragged, screaming, to the window as the murderer prepares to throw her off the train.
She reaches for the emergency brake….will she reach it…will the man with the newspaper look up….if she is thrown off the train and killed, what will happen to her husband?
It’s a 79 minute thrill ride you won’t soon forget.
Content: It is referenced that the husband had a few ‘flings’ with other women before he married Greta Gynt. A women in the movie is killed, in a scene that is quite dramatic but not overly violent. The same woman had an affair with a man and had a baby as a result, but that plot point is touched upon very briefly and with the tact typical of the time period.
The Lady Vanishes: 1938
While traveling in continental Europe, a rich young playgirl realizes that an elderly lady seems to have disappeared from the train.
The true highlight of this movie is the wonderful acting and the amusing repartee between the lovely Margaret Lockwood and the charming Michael Redgrave. These two actors truly ‘clicked’, and the charmingly witty dialogue suits both of them perfectly.
Dame Mae Whitty is perfect as ‘The Vanishing Lady’, a combination of a huggable grandmother…and something else.
“Charters and Caldicott” are a duo of cricket obsessed gentleman onboard, bumbling their way through Europe, hoping (in vain) that they return to England in time to see an important match. Their preposterously vague interchange is hysterically funny and apparently was so popular, that the duo was used again in another movie, highlighting their unique performances.
I love ‘closed door’ situations and I am enamored with books or movies that take place on trains. This is the kind of movie that has spawned every wonderful cliché we have about intrigue on trains. It is a must see.
Content: Two other characters on the train are in the middle of an affair and the man is married. It’s all dialogue and very subtlety done, very young viewers might miss it entirely. At the beginning of the movie, Margaret Lockwood orders room service in her hotel room. The waiter enters to find all the girls lounging around in their slips. Through a strange mix up, Charters and Caldicott find themselves taking the only available room at the same hotel, realizing that it’s a maids room. She undresses in front of them (down to her slip) before leaving with her things to sleep somewhere else. In this opening hotel sequence, Margaret Lockwood bribes the management to throw Michael Redgrave out of his attic room because he was too noisy. Michael Redgrave walks into her room and prepares to ‘share’ the room with her. Margaret Lockwood finally caves and says he can have his attic room back and he leaves. The scene is played for humor, but it might bother some viewers.
And there you have it! Five chilling, thrilling, spine tingling movies to jazz up anybody’s January.
Do you have any favorite suspense movies? Do you not even like suspense movies? I would love to hear about it in the comments!