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Look mister, why can’t you leave this intelligence work to us professionals?

Torn Curtain (1965) (SPOILERS) Torn Curtain boasts a scene, about forty minutes in, that is every bit as proficient and startling as the Psycho shower scene. Unfortunately, in contrast to Psycho , the rest of the movie is a dog: a bog-standard Cold War spy affair, complete with miscast leads, a frequently flagrant disregard for verisimilitude and a rote and at times entirely inappropriate score. In the latter department, it seems studio interference led to Hitchcock rejecting Bernard Herrmann’s contribution and thus their falling out. He had also lost his regular cinematographer and editor. No sooner had Hitch reinvented himself for a new generation, first Marnie and then Torn Curtain show him wildly out of touch with the prevailing trends, both in terms of subject matter and moviemaking. Apart from that scene.
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I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

You mustn’t underestimate American blundering.

Casablanca (1942) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure, way back when, that I went away from Casablanca on first viewing recognising it as the all-time classic for which it is so acclaimed. Perhaps it was just too hallowed to be viewed with unprejudiced eyes. I enjoyed it well enough, but my reaction wasn’t comparable to first sight of the similarly lauded Citizen Kane . And as Humphrey Bogart movies went, I was much more persuaded by The Maltese Falcon . Nevertheless, subsequent visits have served only to elevate its status and confirm the hype was right. You can see very clearly that Casablanca was just another studio picture that somehow separated itself from the pack to earn a status for the ages. But you can also see just how and why it deserved such singling out.

So God ordered a hit on an investment banker?

End of Days (1999) (SPOILERS) Or Arnie v Satan. And maybe, a decade earlier, it could have been a match worth catching. Or maybe not. Because End of Days simply cannot escape the fact that this is a terrible fit for the Austrian Oak. That it remains an entertaining movie – in most respects more so two decades on from its release, when it came across as no more or less than a rather desperate cash-in on pre-millennial angst – is almost entirely despite his presence.

Neutralise the Q switch.

Doctor Who Vengeance on Varos It would be understandable, given how well written parts of Vengeance on Varos are – superbly written, even – to tend toward the reasoning that those aspects which aren’t must be intentionally bad. You know, as a commentary on the artifice of the medium, in a similar fashion to the way the story is commenting upon the medium generally. Unfortunately, I don’t think that explanation holds up (take a look at the synopsis for Philip Martin’s subsequent and aborted, except by Big Finish for whom nothing is ever aborted but instead an opportunity for a six-part box set, Mission to Magnus ). Even the most charitable reading must accept that Vengeance on Varos displays bursts of brilliance and stretches of utter stodge.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.