Happy 115th, Hitch!
I’m feeling a lot of mixed emotions today. Yesterday, the incredible Lauren Bacall passed away, but today is Alfred Hitchcock’s 115th birthday. I wanted to write a post for both occasions and after trying to figure out a fitting way to honor both icons, I decided that today I would post about Hitch (albeit a little late in the day) and later this week, I’ll post my tribute to Betty. That’ll give me some more time to pull my thoughts together—after James Garner, Robin Williams, and now Betty, I’m feeling a little shaky. I hope you guys understand my decision. In no way am I brushing aside Ms. Bacall; I just want to celebrate Hitch for a few minutes.
As you all probably know, Hitchcock is my absolute favorite director. To Catch a Thief did a multitude of things for me (as talked about before), and I’ve seen almost every film the Master has made. It’s amazing to me that during the studio days, this incredibly creative and subversive man was able to do all that he did. The homosexual subtexts, the sexy dialogue, the subtle yet still disturbing murders…I could go on. So, to toast Hitch on his birthday today, let’s take a look at my personal list of Hitchcock favorites. As you can imagine, this list originally started at ten films and then ballooned. I realized I forgot the movies Tippi Hedren starred in, and I couldn’t bring myself to knock off two other films to make room, so I expanded the list to twelve. Then I noticed that four more were missing (believe me, I freaked out—I really shouldn’t do lists because I panic). I finally had to draw a line somewhere and stopped my list at number seventeen, as in Number Seventeen, a Hitch film I’ll admit I haven’t seen. Anyway…
17. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Confession: I’ve only seen this movie once. I conned my sophomore English teacher into letting us watch a Hitchcock film before Halloween came, much to the chagrin of 98% of the class. I actually own this movie but it’s part of a collection that definitely didn’t get any kind of visual or audio restoration, so I’m hoping to buy the Criterion Collection version soon (the same thing applies to The 39 Steps). I do remember thoroughly enjoying The Lady Vanishes, though. I loved Michael Redgrave, and his chemistry with Margaret Lockwood was great. Dame May Whitty was, as always, fantastic and who could forget Charters and Caldicott? One scene in particular I remember takes place in the hotel’s garden where the man Ms. Froy hears singing is strangled—that definitely jolted me.
16. The Birds (1963)
Maybe it is because there is no human villain, or maybe it’s the annoying screaming children—there is just something about this classic that keeps me from watching it more than the others on my list. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this movie. It’s classic Hitch; the absence of a score is cool; the outdated effects don’t bother me one bit; Suzanne Pleshette was awesome; it creates a very suspenseful atmosphere; I even like Tippi Hedren. (I don’t condone her recent backstabbing, of course.) Rod Taylor was good, as well. But like the reason for the birds’ attacks, my keeping away from this film is a bit of a mystery. There is just something there that makes it less appealing to me.
15. Marnie (1964)
This is one of those films that you either love or hate. I happen to like it immensely. It was photographed beautifully, capturing gorgeous images of Tippi and her great wardrobe. Sean Connery is just the best, and he worked well with Tippi (and Hitch). I admit, the characters aren’t as likable as you would want them to be—Mark can be chauvinistic and condescending towards Marnie, not to mention that he rapes her on their honeymoon. And Marnie does a good deal of freaking out, which is understandable given her huge emotional issues, but you still wish she would chill a little. And also: why oh why did they have to kill Marnie’s horse?! But once you push all that aside, it’s a good flick.
14. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Oh, Bruno. You sneaky, little, lovable creep. There are two main reasons why I watch this one: Robert Walker’s fantastic Bruno Anthony and the stunning camera shots Hitchcock created. I was raving just the other day to a friend about Miriam’s murder scene, where you can see Bruno strangling her in the reflection of her glasses. There are so many good visual ideas, such as when Bruno is the only one in the crowd at a tennis match with his gaze focused on Guy instead of the game. Farley Granger is weirdly one of my many favorite actors, but compared to the high level Walker was operating on, Farley’s Guy doesn’t register as well as one would hope. Ruth Roman was kind of a dud, too. Hitch’s daughter, Pat, though—she was great! I love her character more every time I see her.
13. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Although this was the Master’s personal favorite, I seem to always forget about it. Just now, as I was making this list, I totally left it out. Which is odd, because I love it. The storyline is interesting, and boy, was Teresa Wright marvelous or what? She’s never cloying or unbelievable, and her scenes with Joseph Cotten are excellent. Speaking of Cotten…let’s all take a moment to appreciate his Uncle Charlie. Done? Good, because this guy is one scary S.O.B. I remember the first time I watched this movie, I already loved Cotten and his southern gentleman ways, and when I read the premise to SOAD, I scoffed. Joseph Cotten—a murderer? That’s stretching it a wee bit. As you can guess, I was stupid. I also really enjoy the scenes with Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn; they’re kind of adorable.
12. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
You have the all-American girl (Doris Day) and the all-American guy (Jimmy Stewart), plus a bouncy and catchy tune sung by said girl (Que Sera Sera). Mix those together and you wouldn’t think that you would get this rather bleak look into marriage and family life. There’s an undercurrent of bitterness in Jo McKenna towards her husband, probably for making her give up her successful singing career. And Ben McKenna isn’t so happy-go-lucky himself. Despite this, though, TMWKTM is great. In my opinion, it’s much better than the original. Doris gives one of, if not her best performance and Jimmy is terrific (big surprise).
11. Dial M for Murder (1953)
As Grace Kelly’s first time working with Hitch, this is a pretty good outing. However, as fabulous as Grace Kelly and her clothes are, I think Ray Milland steals the show. His Tony Wendice is menacing, suave, and charming. Bob Cummings really doesn’t stand a chance against him, but it’s nice to see him try anyway. My favorite scene: Tony explaining his murderous plot to Swann. So good. The rest of the film is a little too talky, but this scene is perfect.
10. Suspicion (1941)
Joan Fontaine won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Lina, a woman who becomes convinced that her no-good husband (Cary Grant) is out to kill her. Watching Lina and Johnny fall in love is so delightful—the romantic in me just gushes the whole time. And although things turn sinister after the honeymoon, Cary just becomes more attractive. I love him, what can I say? I wish the studio had let Hitch have his original ending where Lina willingly lets Johnny kill her and he unwittingly mails a letter she wrote explaining what he did, thus sealing his own fate. Instead, Johnny turns out to be a great guy who loves Lina and she’s just been worrying over nothing, contrary to the fact that Johnny has lied and swindled and threatened the poor woman and being a killer wouldn’t have been such a stretch.
9. Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Like Shadow of a Doubt, this is another one that I forget a lot despite my admiration for it. As usual, Hitch has wonderful visual moments, such as the umbrella scene. I also really like the sets; the mill where Joel McCrea follows the assassin is really cool. The relationship between McCrea and Laraine Day is really enjoyable, particularly when they first meet. George Sanders is his reliably awesome self, and Albert Bassermann as Van Meer is heartbreaking. I definitely need to re-watch this gem soon.
8. Spellbound (1945)
I’ve written before about this one, so I’ll keep it brief: Greg Peck + Ingrid Bergman + psychology = one great and underrated film.
7. Rebecca (1940)
If you ask me, this is the film that Joan Fontaine should’ve won the Oscar for instead of Suspicion. Rebecca means a great deal to me. It’s given me something to bond over with my mom and my best friend, for starters. It was my introduction to Laurence Olivier and Ms. Fontaine, both of whom I adore now. It was also my second Hitch picture; imagine following the comedy and brightness of To Catch a Thief with this moody and dark romance. It showed me the brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock, and I’ll always hold it dear to me.
6. Psycho (1960)
Terrifying. Genius. Surprisingly funny. Saddening. Electrifying. Janet Leigh was excellent at shading the different sides of Marion Crane, but Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is one of the best performances I have ever seen. It actually angers me that he won no Academy Award for it. He set the standard for movie villains so high, and no matter what you tell me, I don’t think it has quite been surpassed. The same thing goes for Psycho—no horror/slasher film has ever topped it. My niece loves horror movies, so I’m slowly edging her towards the masterpiece that started it all.
5. Vertigo (1958)
So romantic and so upsetting. I felt totally robbed at the end of Vertigo the first time I watched it—how could these people who have been through so much have it end this way?! Anyway…I love this movie a lot. The cinematography is breathtaking, and Bernard Hermann’s score is one of the best film scores ever. Not to mention the superb performances from Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart. Many people call this picture Hitch’s best. I’m not sure, mainly because he had so many masterpieces and I think it depends on your preference. But that’s just me.
4. To Catch a Thief (1955)
Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, the south of France, and Hitchcock—what more could you ask for? It’s light and breezy, giving viewers a chance to fully savor the witty dialogue and the gorgeous locations. I’d take this over any drama any day of the week.
3. Notorious (1946)
If you’re asking me, this is one of the most romantic films ever made. Seeing Cary Grant as the wounded Devlin who has to emotionally punish Ingrid Bergman’s party girl Alicia before he can freely love her is so sigh-inducing. If a boy ever wanted to marry me right on the spot, all he would have to do is quote Devlin and I’d be ready in a heartbeat (obviously there would be other qualifications…like does he have a car, and can he name more than five Humphrey Bogart movies?). Notorious also has “my beautiful Claude Rains,” to quote Bette Davis. Rains is so good that you actually feel sorry at the end when his character is basically sentenced to death by his Nazi friends.
2. North by Northwest (1959)
Trust me, I struggled with this placing. Which do I love more, NxNW or Rear Window? Cary or Jimmy? Eva or Grace? Landau or Ritter? Somewhere in my heart of hearts, Rear Window just barely came out ahead. Of course, there are plenty of things that NxNW has going for it. It is hilarious, for one thing. It has the best seduction scene ever written or acted (“I never discuss love on an empty stomach”). James Mason plays the coolest villain, right up there with Ray Milland’s Tony. Martin Landau as the henchman is brilliant. This is always a good movie to watch as a pick-me-up.
1. Rear Window (1954)
Jimmy, Grace, Thelma—you’ve won this round. I adore every single thing about this film. The atmosphere created by the giant set piece permeates the whole picture. The soundtrack is comprised of music and sounds coming from the surrounding apartments, which is fun. Thelma Ritter proves why she was one of the funniest people around, and Grace shows why she was one of the most stunning. I love how Jimmy’s character starts out doubting his future with Lisa and over the course of the film, he begins to appreciate her and see sides of her that he assumed wouldn’t be there. She does dangerous and exciting things to prove that the neighbor across the way is a murderer, which simultaneously gives her insight into what Jeff’s photography career can be like and earns her Jeff’s respect. It’s a nice give-and-take, and it fascinates me that the different directions their relationship could go are reflected in the other apartments. I’m just totally enamored of this picture.
Happy birthday, Hitch!