Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Alfred Hitchcock's 'Limited-Setting' Films

"To make a great film you need three things - the script, the script and the script."
- Alfred Hitchcock.

There are some exceptional stories along with their story tellers who can amaze you and keep you glued on them by almost nothing except their flow and execution. A fine example of this can be seen in the 'limited-setting' films of Alfred Hitchcock, the great master of thrillers and suspense.

With this films Alfred Hitchcock has clearly proved that big sets, fancy cars, heavy action, etc can be of no match to one good story. Yes, its the script that matters. Its all that is required to amaze the audience. Four of his films can be said to fall in this category - Lifeboat (1994), Rope (1948), Dial M for Murder (1954) and Rear Window (1954). All of these movies have been highly acclaimed. They have been loved by both the audiences as well as the critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives them a rating of 95 %, 97%, 83% and 100% respectively.

Lifeboat (1944), is a brilliant film. The film starts and ends on just a small lifeboat. The storyline is such that in World War II, the German U-boats have attacked and have sunken an American passenger ship. The survivors, very few of them have come aboard a small emergency lifeboat. They come from different backgrounds like one of them is an international journalist, another is a rich businessman, one radio operator, a nurse, a steward, a sailor and an engineer are present. This people have a sole aim now i.e to survive. Things go fine until they save another man from drowning, he turns out to be the German commander of the U-boat that sunk them. Some of them demand to throw him out while some assert the fact that he is now a prisoner of war and should be treated as such, thereby beginning a wave of distrust and conflict on the boat. The story then goes ahead answering the numerous questions that arise in the viewer's minds like - Who are this people? Will they survive? Are they trying enough? Whats on that German's mind? Has he got any plans? How will this people come out of this situation?

Rope (1948), is another great film. It revolves around a party taking place in an apartment in New York. Brandon and Philip, two antagonists of the film murder their friend David just because they feel they are intellectually superior to him and therefore have the right to do so. They think this the perfect murder. They even throw a party to other friends and surprisingly the guest list also includes David's father and his fiancee Janet. And another person, Rupert, their prep-school's housemaster happens to come too. Brandon and Philip have hidden David's body in a wooden chest and they use the same wooden chest as a buffet for the food. Rupert, who is actually quite close to them had discussed these theories of perfect murder with the boys in school but he had in no way meant harm for anyone and remained unaware that the boys would go this far. Now with David's absence, Rupert senses some problem, Brandon appears calm and controlled but doesn't seem normal and Philip is depressed and scared. The story goes ahead with Rupert collecting evidences and how he finds out about the murder and thus hands the boys to the authorities.

Dial M for Murder (1954), was also based in similar settings. Much of the story takes place in an apartment. Tony Wendice discovers about his wife's affair with a writer Mark Halliday. He is so angered that he plans her murder. He exceutes a brilliant plan. He picks up a man named Swann, who happens to be petty criminal and his schoolmate, to murder her. Swann is reluctant but then Tony has left no stone unturned in his plan and has collected enough evidences against Swann to make his life hell. Tony has been anonymously blackmailing her too. As planned, everything goes smooth but for a minor error in achieving a proper timing, the plan fails terribly. It is Margot, his wife who ends up killing Swann in self-defense. Tony has a plan B ready and at once comes back and shifts the evidences like the key and the letter in such a way that now it seems like Swann was blackmailing Margot and she has killed him in cold blood. The rest of the movie continues with the investigation and Mark's efforts to prove Margot innocent.

Rear Window (1954), is the story of Jeff, a reporter who has been injured and is now bound to wheelchair for a few days. Confined within his apartment he has nothing interesting to do. Eventually he takes up the habit of spying his neighbors from the rear window of his apartment. His neighbors include a fun-loving composer, a middle-aged couple with a small dog, a dancer who seems to enjoy practicing her routines while scantily clad, a newly wed couple, a woman who seems to live in a fantasy world, and a salesman and his wife. All of them seem fine until the salesman's wife disappears, which  Jeff notices. Also the salesman has started doing strange things which just increases Jeff's suspicion that the salesman has killed her. He involves his girlfriend and his nurse too in this matter and they devise a plan to catch him red handed. Where has the wife disappeared? Is Jeff right about his discovery? Who is that salesman? Is he dangerous? The movie answers all this questions well.