In anticipation of the upcoming HBO movie ‘The Girl’, which details and explores the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, I thought it appropriate to list my top 10 favourite Hitchcock films. I know, I know, an HBO film that most people haven’t heard of (including me until I saw it on this site) isn’t really reason to break out in song and dance – but screw you, I love Hitchcock films, so I’m making a list!
A small caveat before I begin the list – I haven’t seen all the Hitchcock films ever made. I haven’t seen any of his silent films, and have only seen one from his pre-Hollywood era, “The 39 Steps”. There are also lots more that I want to see, and if I had seen them they would therefore be in the running for the top 10 list that will follow. Bottom line is the list is not complete, and will change. At this point in time however, these are ten films from one of the greatest and most influential film directors of the 20th Century.
The reason for not including Rope in my list, is that I only saw this for the first time two nights past, and therefore felt it hadn’t lingered in my thoughts for long enough. I would also like to make mention of one of the most powerful performances I have seen, coming from non other than Hitch’s friend and leading man Jimmy Stewart. There is a scene within the end of the final act where Stewart gives a monologue up there with the best. Rope was filmed entirely within one apartment (being that it was based on a play) allowing for the intensity and suspense to build. Hitchcock’s murder mystery at its finest.
10. Spellbound (1945)
Perhaps Hitchcock’s first film to analyse the subconscious, Spellbound featured two of Hollywood’s leading actors in Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, both of whom were outstanding. The films plot is as much a puzzle to the viewers as it is to Dr. Constance Peterson (Bergman) as she attempts to discover the identity of amnesiac Dr. Anthony Edwards (Peck), as well as the fate of the person he’s apparently impersonating. The film also features dream sequences from surrealist artist Salvador Dali, that are mini masterpieces on their own, adding to the films attractive aesthetic and psychological themes.
9. The Birds (1963)
The Birds was the first Hitchcock movie that I saw (I was probably 12 or 13 years old), and it scared the shit out of me! (Thanks a lot Mum…). Hitchcock made the decision to go without a conventional score for this film, instead using only sound effects and source music – i.e. sounds heard by the characters within the film, such as birds. The lack of score, coupled with many calculated silences throughout, add to the suspense that by this time in his career, Hitchcock was a master at creating. The film’s plot does not involve a murder mystery, as many of his other films do – rather it goes for straight suspense and almost (dare I say it) horror themes, because what’s more scary than being attacked by birds?! The story therefore is relatively simple – Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) bumps into Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) at a pet store when he is looking for birds to buy for his daughter. Melanie travels to Bodega Bay, a small coastal town where Mitch lives, to surprise him with the lovebirds and en route she is attacked by a seagull. This is the first of many unexplained attacks, and eventually the whole town is under siege, leaving the characters to shack up, and wait until the menacing flock has passed.
8. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Almost a black comedy, Strangers on a Train is a film that incorporates all of the elements that epitomise Hitchcock; murder, mix-ups, attractive women, and suspenseful climactic final acts. The film begins with Guy Haines (Farley Granger), a successful tennis player who bumps into eccentric stranger and fellow train passenger Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Both men have someone in their lives that they’d rather be without; Guy wants to get rid of his unfaithful wife, and Bruno his domineering father. So Bruno devises the perfect “criss-cross” murder, they shall swap victims – Guy will murder Bruno’s father, and Bruno will take care of Guy’s wife – and since they are strangers, there is no motive for either of them to perform such deeds. The film climaxes with a tennis match in which Guy must finish as quick as possible without raising suspicion, known to be one of the most suspenseful in film history, and I wouldn’t doubt it.
7. Dial M for Murder (1954)
Dial M for Murder is the greatest mystery story that I have ever been told – the plot is complex, but the manner by which the film pans out, everything is revealed by close without being too obvious. Credit must go to English playwright Frederick Knott, whose play of the same name debuted in 1952 on London’s West End, and in the same year on Broadway. The success of the play attracted Warner Bros. to pick it up for a film release, handing it over to their main man, Alfred Hitchcock to direct. The standout performance for mine, is that of Anthony Dawson, playing the hired assassin ‘Captain Lesgate’ – there is something about his presence that is so creepy, yet so adorable. Grace Kelly is as radiant as ever playing the intended murder victim of her husbands scheme to cash in on her fortune. I don’t want to spoil anything more than I have, because this film is a gem.
6. Psycho (1960)
Quite possibly the most famous and influential horror film of all time (if not THE most, then up there.. sorry Dean!), Psycho is now synonymous not only with suspense, but with shower scenes everywhere! The very fact that the ‘monster’ in this movie is not of a supernatural nature (i.e. vampire, werewolf, zombie etc.), but rather taking an all too real human figure of Norman Bates, makes Psycho very disturbing indeed. It is now movie history that Hitchcock implemented a special policy of not allowing anyone to enter the theatre after the opening credit’s had run (a policy that should be in force for every movie…) – as the suspense begins immediately; and for those who haven’t seen it, the ‘shower scene’ occurs sooner than you think. Anthony Perkins does an excellent job of playing Bates, the sexually confused monster that can kill you with a look.
5. Notorious (1946)
A favourite among ‘film-buffs’ (whatever that means), Notorious is known to be when Hitchcock matured thematically, introducing a love story that was perhaps more ‘real’ than in previous outings. The love story in question is between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, playing government agent, T.R. Devlin and daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, Alicia Huberman respectively. The camera work in this film is also well-known, with one scene in particular standing out from the rest. It involves a wide and high angle shot of a party in the grand hall of a mansion, and slowly the camera tracks down on the hand of Bergman, displaying a concealed key tucked into her grip, one that will hopefully unlock what they are looking for. Apart from the technical skills of Notorious, I enjoy the story – that of the mystery, the heart of all Hitch’s films.
4. North by Northwest (1959)
The opening title sequence in North by Northwest is exhilarating – the score of long-time Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann plays, a fast-paced tune of mystery and suspense; the name Cary Grant appears on the screen in white lettering atop a background of pine green, with 50′s graphics of lines at angles slashing the screen, angles precisely at northwest. This title sequence is the perfect opening to one of my all time favourite movies. It is known by some as the first ‘Bond film’, with the suave marketing executive of Roger O. Thornhill (Grant), dancing with fire with the evil villain, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), all the while seducing the beautiful blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) – perfect cocktail for a 007 picture – I digress.. The climactic finish on Mt. Rushmore, and the crop duster attack are two of the most well recognised scenes in film history – an exquisite finish to Hitchcock’s “golden era”.
N.B. – For those interested in the video of the title sequence, I have included it as an appendix to this review for your viewing pleasure.
3. Rear Window (1954)
Rear Window remains as one Hitchcock’s most famous and widely-regarded best films. It features two iconic characters, firstly of Jimmy Stewart’s classic role as L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, and secondly of the blonde bombshell (that had become iconic in Hitchcock films), Lisa (played by Grace Kelly). The set that Hitchcock built for Rear Window was a life-size apartment block in New York; this gave him the freedom and space for one voyeuristic camera shot through the lens of his hero’s prying binoculars. It is a frightening insight into what has materialised in today’s society and culture – predicted almost 60 years ago.
2. Rebecca (1940)
Rebecca was Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film, and first in a long line of films made with producer David O. Selznick. Laurence Olivier is cast as the leading man, he plays Maxim de Winter, a wealthy widower wooing the innocent new wife played by Joan Fontaine. Manderley mansion which is featured in the film becomes almost a character unto itself, telling it’s own story of mystery and ghosts. The ‘ghost’ in question is Winter’s dead wife, Rebecca, who along with the suspicious servant Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) haunt Fontaine to the brink of insanity. Rebecca was a bright start to brilliant Hollywood career.
1. Vertigo (1958)
Obsession – if there was one word to sum up Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece Vertigo, obsession would be it. Jimmy Stewart plays John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a retired police officer with acrophobia, who spends his days with Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) flirting, drinking and discussing fashion. It is not until Madeleine (Kim Novak) enters his life that we see Scottie be transformed, transfixed, by her angelic image. Bernard Hermann once more teams up with Hitchcock to produce one of his most iconic scores, one that is as mystical as the film. Camera techniques displaying Scottie’s vertigo, as well as the wide angle panoramic shots of San Francisco’s skyline and Golden Gate Bridge display Hitchcock’s technical mastery. These elements mesh into a film that show the suspense king at the top of his reign.
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