To Catch A Thief (1955) Review

To Catch A Thief Director: Alfred Hitchcock (1955)

★★★★★

To Catch A Thief is a joy to watch. I have yet to meet a Hitchcock film I have not truly loved. The film tells the simple story of a retired jewel thief who is forced out of hiding to capture an impersonator who is framing him. For me, the beautiful and luxurious European vistas play a key part in the film.

It stars Cary Grant (in his penultimate Hitchcock film followed only by North By Northwest) as John Robie, a now-retired jewel thief who was once notoriously known as “The Cat.” He was pardoned of his criminal activity due to his work with the French Resistance. Robie lives out his retirement growing grapes and flowers from a villa atop the Mediterranean hillsides overlooking the French Riviera. However, he is brought under suspicion when a series of robberies matching his style surface in France. He goes to visit his old gang, now working at a restaurant in France, but the police chase him. Robie narrowly escapes with the help of one of his former gang member’s daughters, Danielle (played by Brigitte Auber, a French actress).

Robie’s plan is to lay a trap for the new “Cat” burglar in order to prove his own innocence. He gets help from a local insurance agent who helps Robie identify everyone staying along the French Riviera while carrying expensive jewelry. Robie takes on an alias as a lumberman from Oregon and he quickly befriends a wealthy woman named Jessie Stevens (played by Jesse Royce Landis, who also played the roll of Cary Grant’s mother in North By Northwest) and her beautiful daughter, Frances, or “Francie” (played by Grace Kelly, her final role in a Hitchcock film). Frances and Robie strike up a romance and she discovers his secret past. One night while she seduces him, her mother’s prized jewels are stolen and Robie is blamed. Racing against the clock, Robie discovers the true culprit on the roof during the night of a masquerade ball -his former gang member’s daughter, Danielle.

Grace Kelly gives a stunning performance, bolstered by the costumes designed by Edith Head. Interestingly enough, Truffaut once called To Catch A Thief one of Hitchcock’s most cynical films. At age 50, Cary Grant was slowing down and planning to retire (much like John Robie) but Hitchcock convinced him to play the part. The hero is a thief and he falls in love with a bored but wealthy heiress who wants to help him steal jewels for cheap thrills. Their romance is filled with one cheeky innuendo after another, but Grace Kelly steals the show, along with Hitchcock’s favorite cinematographer, Robert Burkes, who elegantly captures the beauty of the French Riviera.

Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List (1993) Director: Steven Spielberg

“Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.”

Schindler's_List_movie

★★★★★

Schindler’s List is a beautiful but harrowing and sobering holocaust film shot almost entirely in black and white. Amazingly, Spielberg was unsure about the project, and he tried several times to pass the film to other directors (like Roman Polanski, a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, who turned down this opportunity, but he later famously made his own holocaust film, The Pianist). Not only is Schindler’s List a lengthy and powerful film for ordinary audiences to watch, but also, as shooting was underway in Poland, Steven Spielberg was overwhelmed with emotions connected to his own Jewish heritage. It was a deeply gut-wrenching experience Apparently, Robin Williams called Spielberg regularly to tell him jokes and cheer him up during filming.

1993 was a monumental year for Steven Spielberg. He shot both Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List at the same time. Both are excellent movies -some of the best of the era. Schindler’s List is based on a 1982 Thomas Keneally novel called “Schindler’s Ark.” The novel won the Book Prize.

“Stern, if this factory ever produces a shell that can actually be fired, I’ll be very unhappy.”

The story is based on the true account of Oskar Schindler, a factory businessman and member of the Nazi party who wound up saving over a thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler is played by Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes plays the somewhat unbelievably brutal and sadistic Nazi S.S. Officer, Amon Göth, and Ben Kingsley plays Schindler’s friend and accountant, Itzhak Stern. Both Neeson and Fiennes were relatively unknown prior to Schindler’s List. As the film progresses it becomes clear that Schindler is not merely a playboy businessman, but rather he becomes a sympathizer and savior of many victims of the holocaust. In fact, he risks his life, money, and credibility to save as many Jews from the gas chambers as possible. In one particularly memorable scene, as the ghetto is liquidated, one girl wearing a red coat appears (one of the only moments of color in the film). We later learn that she has been slaughtered in one of the camps.

“The list is an absolute good. The list is life.”

As the war ends, Schindler is forced to flee in hiding while consumed with regret and wishing he had done more. In reality, the real Schindler fled Germany for Argentina where he became a farmer, eventually going bankrupt and relying on funds from Jewish organizations to stay afloat. Amon Göth was later captured after the war and hanged, following the Nuremberg trials.

The closing scenes of the film are some of the most powerful. Many years later, we see huge lines of families visiting the grave of Oskar Schindler in Jerusalem to pay their respects by placing stones on his grave marker. Many of the true survivors from Oskar Schindler’s factory walk arm in arm with their actor counterparts at the end of the movie. The real Schindler died in 1974.

For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only (1981) Director: John Glen

For_Your_Eyes_Only_-_UK_cinema_poster

★☆☆☆☆

For Your Eyes Only has often earned itself a reputation as one of the less goofy Roger Moore Bond films, but that isn’t really much of a statement. After the science fiction-themed and at times cartoonishly produced Moonraker, the production team wanted to bring the next James Bond film back down to earth. For Your Eyes Only is the twelfth James Bond film, and the fifth starring Roger Moore. It essentially saved United Artists after the notorious box office bomb Heaven’s Gate which nearly bankrupted the whole company.

The film begins with an unusual prologue. James Bond visits the gravesite of his one-time wife, Tracy Bond (who was murdered at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and when he departs, he enters a helicopter that is quickly and remotely hijacked by an unnamed villain on the ground –we are strongly led to believe this assassin is Blofeld (he is in a wheelchair, with a white cat, and a bald head in a grey suit). However, the studio executives were unable to acquire the rights to Blofeld at the time. Nevertheless, Bond somehow regains control of the helicopter, and he flies it, attaching it to the Blofeld-esque character and Bond drops him down a massive chimney which apparently kills him (both literally and symbolically for the studio).

Meanwhile, a British Royal Navy vessel is attacked and sunk off the coast of Greece. It was carrying an Automatic-Targeting-Attack-Communicator (ATAC) which communicates with the British fleet of submarines. James Bond is assigned to retrieve the ATAC before the Soviets can find it, since the device can order coordinated attacks by the fleet of submarines. At the same time, a British archaeologist locates the sunken boat (the St. Georges) but before he can send in his report, he and his wife are killed by a Cuban hitman named Gonzales. Their daughter is left alive on their family boat. James Bond trails Gonzales to his Spanish villa (shot at a real abbey of monks who tried to obstruct the film at every turn), where he spies on a payment transaction but Bond is quickly captured and saved when a mysterious crossbow shoots and kills Gonzales in his own pool. Bond escapes and discovers the hidden attacker, Melina Havelick (played by Carole Bouquet), the daughter of the murdered British archaeologist. They escape together, and, somehow using archaic British technology, Q is able to help Bond identify the man who paid Gonzales. Bond trails the man to Italy where he is attacked while skiing and then he is also attacked by a hoard of goons while on an ice-skating rink. It is revealed to Bond, by his ally named Kristatos (played by the famous English actor, Julian Glover) that the initial attempt at the ATAC was conducted by the KGB, but when Bond and Melina successfully recover the ATAC, Kristatos reveals himself to be a double-crosser. The plot was his all along. They climb up to his secret rendezvous point at an abandoned mountaintop monastery to kill Kristatos and recover the ATAC. However, when Bond does so, the Soviets arrive, and instead of either giving the Soviets the device or keeping it for himself, Bond decides to lob it over the cliff, destroying the ATAC so no one can use it. In the end, Bond and Melina receive a call from Margaret Thatcher from her kitchen, but Bond lets Melinda’s parrot take the call.

The story is drawn from a combination of plot and characters taken from two Ian Fleming short stories from his “For Your Eyes Only” story collection. In truth, For Your Eyes Only should really be watched by no one’s eyes. The only impressive parts of the film are the beautiful shooting locations. Otherwise the opening scene wherein Bond essentially kills Blofeld is an awful sign of things to come. The tone is amusing, but the plot and villains are forgettable, the Sheena Easton opening song is likely one of the worst, and the ’80s background music is just as cheesy and terrible.

Moonraker

Moonraker (1979) Director: Lewis Gilbert

Moonraker_(UK_cinema_poster)

★★☆☆☆

Moonraker is the eleventh Eon James Bond film, the fourth to star Roger Moore, and the third Bond film directed by Lewis Gilbert: You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and Moonraker (1979). Moonraker was the third Bond novel published by Ian Fleming, initially released in 1954. The producers originally intended to create For Your Eyes Only (as originally shown in the closing credits of the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me), however with the rise of the recent Star Wars mania, they decided to go with the space theme for James Bond.

At the outset of the film, a Moonraker space shuttle is hijacked in midair so M summons James Bond to investigate. While on the plane en route to England, Bond’s plane is also hijacked by Jaws, the towering henchman from the previous film, and the credits open with a dramatic skydiving scene. Immediately, we get a sense of how goofy this film will be when a midair Bond steals a parachute from the falling assassin, and instead Jaws falls, not to his death, but gently onto a comical circus tent. James Bond is then sent to California, to the headquarters of Drax Industries, the manufacturer the Moonraker the space shuttle. He meets the sinister head of the company, Hugo Drax (played by Michael Lonsdale -the role for which he is best known), along with his Samurai henchman, Chang (Toshiro Suga), and Dr. Holly Goodhead (played by Lois Chiles -the role for which she is best known). Bond tests the centrifuge chamber when Dr. Goodhead is called away and Chang disrupts the test, nearly killing Bond as he spins around in circles. That evening, Bond sleeps with Drax’s pilot who feeds him blueprint information of a glass vial made in Venice, so the next day when Bond goes hunting with Drax (for some reason) and Bond deliberately shoots a marksman out of a tree, and Drax sends his attack dogs after his pilot. In a dark scene for a Bond film, she is hunted and killed by the dogs.

Bond trails the lead to Venice where he, once again, encounters Dr. Goodhead, and he realizes she is a spy, as well. They learn that the glass vials are being designed to distribute toxic nerve gas, and we see a ridiculous gondola boat chase scene through Venice. Bond is attacked by Chang, but he kills Chang by tossing him through the clocktower at Saint Mark’s Square. In another ridiculous scene, Jaws falls in love with a woman he meets. Bond and Goodhead then follow Drax’s business to Rio de Janeiro -Bond travels even after being dismissed by MI6, as they were disappointed in Bond’s lack of information about the nerve gas vials. Bond survives various attacks by Jaws. Bond travels down the Amazon River to Drax’s base. The last portion of the film takes place at a large space station where Drax is apparently attempting to create a master race of humans -an act which offends Jaws so he turns on Drax. This is followed by an absurd space laser battle, and Bond launches Drax into space. Bond and Goodhead escape in a pod, as do Jaws and his new girlfriend, Dolly.

Moonraker was created with the astronomical budget (no pun intended) of $34M, approximately twice as much as budget for The Spy Who Loved Me. And the high budget worked, fat least from a financial perspective, because Moonraker became the highest grossing James Bond film up to that point, a feat that was only later upstaged when Goldeneye was released.

Whereas in the early days Sean Connery had sophistication and wit, Roger Moore’s James Bond of the ’70s was sort of like a silly uncle always making uncouth jokes with a face that seemed to say: “I didn’t do it.” Aside from being a visually impressive film, Moonraker is a pretty terrible movie. It is almost like a parody of the James Bond series. Roger Moore is starting to show his age, and the once dynamic and intense James Bond chase scenes feel slapstick and campy. Perhaps the biggest eye-roll of the movie comes when Jaws, the menacing and fearsome henchman from The Spy Who Loved Me, falls in love with an awkward young girl. The element of space travel is something new for Bond, but it is an obvious grab at the popularity of Star Wars at the time. Though I enjoyed it more than I thought I would watching it through this time around, Moonraker ranks among the worst of the James Bond movies for me.