The more "conventional" films of his that followed -- Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969) -- have been devalued, alternatively as the work of a chastened creative genius; a lion in winter shackled by his fiscal obligations to Universal Studios, in which he held a substantial equity position. Most damningly, biographer Donald Spoto wrote that they were the work of a man who had “lost all interest in his women, his actors, his stories – indeed, in movies.” Um, yeah.... With all due respect to these astute writers, I have to politely disagree. True, Hitch's age and the loss of some of his longtime collaborators in the mid-sixties were real setbacks. Studio bosses cramped his style and killed a pet project or two, but none of that was new to him. That's Hollywood. With Torn Curtain and Topaz he was simply repeating the pattern of the fifties (and, early, the thirties, which I haven't yet mentioned): after a pair of failures, he returned to a tried-and-true formula, the spy thriller. Those two movies have so much to offer that I fear they are unfairly overlooked -- particularly as gems of "pure film."
Long takes have a conviction, a presence, a specific gravity that a heavily edited sequence might lack. They keep the audience rooted in the story, not just as an observer, but as a participant in the drama, inexorably drawn along with the unfolding story, with the film itself. For instance, in Lady Henrietta Flusky's (Ingrid Bergman's) nine-minute confession in Under Capricorn, the audience hears the truth about her past at the same time as her confessor and friend, Charles Adair (Michael Wilding). This intimate scene is a direct counterpoint to their first meeting, in which the long take makes us feel the gulf between the drug-addled, hallucination-prone Hattie and the rest of the world. (When you see the scene for the first time, her alienation seems to stem from her weakness; when you see it the second time, her isolation is made more poignant because we are aware of the her essential nobility and of the shameful secret she carries.) The long take in the confession scene allows us to feel Charles' feelings as he felt them—shock and, ultimately, compassion as her story comes out.i
That effect—making the audience experience its feelings in tandem with the rest of the characters, a trait Hitchcock called "putting the audience through it"—is a hallmark of Hitchcockian “pure film.”
Okay, so much for editing and montage as “indispensable” aspects of pure film. (As if you haven't yet had enough, for more of my thoughts on the long take, read my post about Hitch as the compleat film maker.) How did Hitch use sound to pull his audience into the pure film experience? Come on back and read the exciting conclusion to my thoughts on Hitchcock and “pure film.”