Speaking of Duck Soup, I was reminded of one of my favourite Woody Allen scenes yesterday when a trip to the movies blasted the blues away on a miserable Monday… I’ve always found that a good dose of escapism in the shape of a great film, especially on the big screen, is the best possible non-pharmaceutical antidote to what Holly Golightly called the Mean Reds.
My feelings about the therapeutic qualities of great films are brilliantly – and hilariously – summed up in Hannah and Her Sisters when a suicidal Woody Allen stumbles into an arthouse cinema and finds that, in something of a paradox, it’s the inane antics of the Marx Brothers hailing Freedonia in Duck Soup which make him forget his troubles and help him “put the world back into rational perspective”.
It wasn’t the Marx Brothers that I went to see at the Glasgow Film Theatre, but it was as rare a treat: a showing of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Notorious. Only the sunshine (and the thought that yesterday might turn out to be the first and last day of summer) can explain the disappointing turn-out for a film which, although not one of Hitch’s very best, is still streets ahead of most other movies on offer at the moment.
For my generation, which grew up with these movies on TV, there is a real thrill about seeing them on the big screen. You’re more likely to lose yourself in the image – there’s so much to drink in, especially if Cary Grant is one of the stars. (And here he is beautifully photographed by Ted Tetzlaff, whose final film as cinematographer this was.)
It’s not only the image that’s magnified – maybe because your attention is so focused on the film, you pick up more of the subtleties in the dialogue than you do sitting in your living room watching the small screen. Of course, there’s also the fact that watching a film in company is a different experience from watching it alone – and it’s amazing how other people’s dirty minds make you realise that the dialogue isn’t always as innocent as it appears on the surface in films from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood.
Actually, Hitchcock got away with quite a bit in Notorious. 1946 was clearly the year of smooching while making a phone call – James Stewart and Donna Reed tested the censors’ patience with their famous, lingering kiss in It’s a Wonderful Life while poor Sam “Hee Haw” Wainwright shouted a business plan down the phone to them. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman have a similar moment in the altogether more risque Notorious which, in a strange anticipation of the reputation Bergman would gain four years later when she left her husband for her lover, Roberto Rossellini, cast her as a bit of a bad girl.
The only disappointment with the movie was Bergman’s wardrobe. Ogling the outfits is another reason to see an old movie in the cinema but, with the exception of the one dress I remembered anyway (you’ll know the one if you’ve seen the film), there wasn’t much to get excited about.