Chip’s review published on Letterboxd:
My two absolute favorite directors are Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock, and it has always struck me that their careers seemed to synchronize well with each other. So, as an excuse to rewatch all of Billy Wilder’s movies and all of these Hitchcock movies in this blu-ray set, I’m rewatching anything these directors did whenever they both released a movie in the same year. And then I’m declaring a winner for each year because that’s in my power.
The twelfth year of the competition: 1956, and 1957*
*So when I was planning this in my head, I forgot that The Spirit of St. Louis was released in 1957. I know it was produced before The Man Who Knew Too Much, but it took a while for the movie to get released. That means that Billy Wilder released three movies in 1957, which doesn’t work for me, so I’m going to continue along as if nothing were wrong.
Yeah, so a nice bit of cheated synchronicity: It’s a James Stewart double feature.
The Spirit of St. Louis is not a bad movie, but it’s disappointing when you go in expecting a Billy Wilder movie. It’s beautifully photographed and the score is sumptuous. But the script is frankly pedestrian. It also faces a problem that ultimately proves insurmountable. How does someone who uses dialogue so well make a movie about someone with no one to talk to for thirty plus hours. The answer is he talks to himself, he thinks in voiceover, or he talks to a fly that gets stuck in the cockpit. Earlier in his career, Wilder got into a fight with Charles Boyer when he had the actor talking to a cockroach in one of his scripts. Well, Stewart wasn’t too crazy about the idea either, so the scene is pretty short. Voice-over comes and goes, and it’s not clear whom he’s talking to when it comes.
Apparently, Lindbergh was a friend of Wilder’s, so the movie ended up being a straight up monument to the greatness of Charles Lindbergh. Wilder himself suggested an idea of having Lindbergh losing his virginity the night before the flight, and then not noticing the girl he lost it to when he comes home because now he’s Charles-fucking-Lindbergh, but Wilder was afraid to even bring it up. Lindbergh was so conservative, he might get cold feet at the idea of inserting any sex into his movie about how awesome he is. It would also be problematic considering Stewart is nearly twice the age Lindbergh was when the story takes place. So we can pretend Stewart is young, but a virgin? Suspension of disbelief is only so strong.
Really, the problem with this movie is that it feels like a star vehicle. Apparently Stewart fought for the role, but it feels like a movie that would have originated with Stewart. The character he plays is perfect. He doesn’t make mistakes. The entire movie builds him up. This is not a Wilder protagonist. As a result, it feels more like a James Stewart movie than a Billy Wilder movie.
The Man Who Knew Too Much, though, is every bit a Hitchcock movie. He’s remaking one of his own movies for chrissakes. This movie marked his fourth and final collaboration with John Michael Hayes, who had written Hitchcock’s last three movies, and he really helped to push Hitchcock’s craft forward. It’s obvious now, but Hitchcock took a massive leap forward with Rear Window. He let scenes play out in silence. His characters had a sardonic wit that put their personalities on full display. His movies became inherently suspenseful AND funny. And the final line of this movie beautifully illustrates this knowing sense of humor. The movie has long suspense sequences that play out dialogue free. From the assassination at Albert Hall to Stewart’s walk to the wrong Ambrose Chapel. It’s a shame Hitchcock stopped working with Hayes.
Everything about this movie is pure Hitchcock. The characters, the set-up, the angles, the obliqueness of the spies’ plot. And weaving Doris Day’s reputation as a singer into the plot is genius. This is one of the only Hitchcock movies where characters talk about where they got their money from. Specifically, from Stewart’s patients back home. Doris Day brings this up, and I can’t help but think she’s being kind of shitty when she does it because apparently her character was a successful singer who walked away from it to marry Stewart. So of course she has to point out how they’re paying for each thing they do on their vacation. Regardless, it’s an interesting bit of insight that almost –ALMOST – creates tension out of having or not having money.
The Spirit of St. Louis is a sprawling one note bio flick. The Man Who Knew Too Much is a Hitchcock movie.
The winner: Hitchcock sorry for the math.