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To Catch a Kleptomaniac: Sean Connery tries to understand Tippi Hedrin's obsession in Alfred Hitchcock's unfairly underrated 'Marnie.'

Master Series

The Stanford Theater celebrates Alfred Hitchcock's centenary with a three-month retrospective

By Richard von Busack

LATE FOR HIS 100th birthday and yet always pertinent and timely, the Alfred Hitchcock retrospective at the Stanford Theater (featuring more than 40 films and running Feb. 4-April 23) is a major event. The enigmatic director, dismissed as a mere entertainer for most of his career, is constantly fascinating for viewing and reviewing. Why? Not just for his terrific visual engineering skills but for the glimpses he gives us of a torrid fascination with violent love and even more violent death. These fascinations are kept under pressure, screwed down by the twin engines of a middle-class British Victorian sensibility and the Motion Picture Production Code. When the 1960s destroyed the latter, Hitchcock's work became less interesting. But the technician remained, as would Hitchcock's underrated abilities as a woman's director, as seen by the acting of the charming Barbara Harris, the heart of his last film, Family Plot.

We remember Hitchcock's calm, his manners, his refined sense of horror--his disinterest in the art of performance, compared to the art of composition. Orson Welles will never be forgiven for shilling wine, while Hitchcock is remembered fondly for his introductions to TV commercials on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show. But Hitchcock doesn't have the grandness or irresponsibility of Welles, and he is the lesser artist for it. Hitchcock once posed next to a pile of scripts taller than he was, representing all of his completed movies. The photo is distressing, as if he were showing us his résumé. That businessmanlike quality was the joke in Hitchcock's public persona, however: the confident self-amusement, the glottal drawl and the modesty in announcing himself with a theme song (from the composer Borodin) that's a funeral march for a marionette.

Some of the special features at this retrospective: Dial M for Murder in 3-D (see a giant telephone outact Ray Milland); original Technicolor prints of the maligned and fascinating Marnie and The Birds, the latter a study of anomie that seems to merge Antonioni with Night of the Living Dead. The series also digs up some fascinating, little-seen efforts, such as the early British film Rich and Strange, with its unsung opening shot of an office closing for the day and its pictures of a marriage in crisis. Also on tap is Strangers on a Train, with the best joke I've ever heard about an ugly painting. Vertigo sums up the worst conflicted feelings about San Francisco. And in Psycho, Hitchcock's leanest, most accessible and daring film, we are treated to Anthony Perkins' inflections as Norman commenting that he has to remake even the unused beds at the Bates Motel because no one likes that creepy feeling of damp sheets.

Hitchcock reigned as king of suspense and is in no danger of being dethroned. Of course, he is the most beloved of all movie directors, the uncle who never stopped indulging us in our taste for sweets and thrill rides. It was only later--through watching his movies again and again as we aged--that we suspected what the man's tortured feelings might be underneath the geniality.

Hitchcock: The Master of Suspense runs Feb. 4-April 23 at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto. Check Revival Caps for individual screenings.

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From the February 3-9, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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