The suspense is going to subside around here somewhat in the coming weeks, or at least the Alfred Hitchcock created type. We have come to the end of the first phase of the Hitchcock marathon, covering almost all of the films I had set out to do in this phase, plus a couple more. So this post is just a sort of wrap up on the films I’ve reviewed and some plans for the next phase of the marathon.
Whenever people think about Hitchcock, they either think of a creepy guy who likes blonds or his title as “The Master of Suspense.” For someone who is called “The Master,” some of his films are not as suspenseful as one might think. In some cases this might be more due to the time period or other factors; movies were generally slower back then, and the acting styles are different then they are now. However, when he pulls out the stops you better watch out. A couple of his films will literally not let you breathe for the entire thing. The reason this works is because of how well he crafts it. When the suspense works, it’s because you’re totally invested in the characters and how they will react to a situation you know is coming. For me, this works even on the second or third viewings of some of these films. Hitchcock’s moniker is well earned and won’t be disputed by me.
Another Hitchcock trademark is his most common plot: the innocent man wrongly accused. Hitchcock does this well in several films, and perfected it over the course of his career. However, my favorite films of his (enumerated soon!) are when he gets out of his comfort zone. I like more of the psychologically based ones generally. Other plots/themes of his that generally came up in this selection of films were: the perfect crime, voyeurism, a MacGuffin chase, or some sort of psychological examination into someone’s past.
So I managed to to review eighteen Hitchcock films, nineteen if you include the pre-marathon review of Vertigo (which I am). I’m going to rank them all shortly so I don’t need to list them all out now, but I will apologize for breaking the promise of reviewing Suspicion. I have actually seen the film, and it’s a good one, but I didn’t get to rewatch it recently and I didn’t feel comfortable reviewing it based on my only experience with it about a year ago. Next time! However, I did get to Dial M for Murder, The Wrong Man, The Birds, and To Catch a Thief which I did not plan on getting to, so I’m slightly ahead of the game if you average those out. So without further ado, here are my rankings of this group of Hitchcock films (in count-down order)! Click on the pictures for links to the full reviews.
Starring: Tippi Hedron and Sean Connery
Plot type: psychological personal history
Wrap-Up: Man, I did not like this film. While the story might have been something I would have liked, between Tippi Hedron’s non-acting and just a general lackluster feeling throughout the whole thing I could not get behind this movie. I still love Hitchcock, I still love Connery who did pretty well here, but this film just flat out did not work.
Starring: Grace Kelly and Cary Grant
Plot type: innocent man wrongly accused
Wrap-Up: I have to say I don’t like this movie either. It’s not an all out hatred like Marnie, I just personally did not like this film. I understand people liking it, but personally I didn’t care for the romance between the two leads and I thought the film dragged.
Starring: Joseph Cotten and Theresa Wright
Plot type: doesn’t really conform to a standard Hitchcock plot
Wrap-Up: The major bring downs in this film are the ridiculous plot, obnoxious characters, and Theresa Wright’s acting. While I didn’t care for Wright’s performance, it was fun to see Cotten as the villain and I thought he did a good job. I also liked the comic relief characters, so the film wasn’t a total loss.
Wrap-Up: I enjoyed The Trouble with Harry; for this and all of the films to follow I can say they at least have a solid like from me. While it had some good laughs, the subtle humor was not enough without some more suspense to keep the film going for me.
At number 15 is…
Plot type: the perfect crime
Wrap-Up: Dial M for Murder was good. I liked the two leads, mainly how Ray Milland was trying to kill Grace Kelly who I usually don’t like. Ironically, I did like her in this film though. There’s lot of emphasis on planning and covering up at the expense of any emotional depth, which is really the only problem I have with it. However, it is a big problem in my opinion.
At number 14 is…
Starring: Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll
Plot type: innocent man wrongly accused AND MacGuffin chase
Wrap-Up: I had sort of built up The 39 Steps in my head, and my latest rewatch left me expecting more. Nevertheless, it’s a fun film from Hitch’s British days. It’s one of many where he makes being on the run into an adventure, which he perfects later on in his career.
At number 13 is….
Starring: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, and George Sanders
Plot type: MacGuffin chase
Wrap-Up: Did I mention how cool George Sanders’ voice is? That alone is sufficient reason to watch the film, but if you need more convincing it’s a really fun time with lots of heroic reporting. Hitch is not really taking any risks here and it could have had more suspense, but all in all it’s a fun ride around Europe right before WWII.
At number 12 is…
Starring: Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood
Plot type: MacGuffin chase
Wrap-Up: The Lady Vanishes is a fun film, with mystery and a romance between the two main characters that works pretty well. Most of the film takes place on the train, but the climax is still pretty dramatic nonetheless.
At number 11 is…
Starring: Henry Fonda and Vera Miles
Plot type: innocent man wrongly accused
Wrap-Up: As far as I know, this is the only Hitchcock based on a true story. He brings a darker and more realistic feeling to the innocent man wrongly accused plot with this one, and his filmography is all the better for it. I really wish I could put this one higher, and it might move up on subsequent rewatches. I liked Fonda in the main role, and Miles was great in her crazy scenes. You can see why Hitch wanted her for Vertigo, even though I think Novak was the right call.
Wrap-Up: Hitch is playing it safe with this one, bringing the fun adventure to the innocent man wrongly accused plight. This film is nearly perfect, but I would rather Hitch took some risks to be honest. James Mason is a great villain, and Hitch is doing what he does best.
At number 9 is…
Starring: Tippi Hedron and Rod Taylor
Plot type: this is a one of a kind Hitch film. Birds attack.
Wrap-Up: Tippi Hedron is a lot more believable here, and she and Rod Taylor make for a wonderful couple for birds to attack. The Birds is pretty cheesy by today’s standards, but trust me it’s in the best way possible. Hitchcock uses the slow build to great effect here, creating tons of suspense by slowly increasing the ferocity of the birds attacks and compressing the time frame between them.
At number 8 is…
Starring: Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly
Plot type: really heavy on the voyeurism, with some of the perfect crime
Wrap-Up: Rear Window is a unique Hitchcock film that is a metaphor for cinema as a whole. It’s an essential not just for Hitchcock fans, but for any serious cinephile. It’s a multi-layered film that can be analyzed forever. The only reason I didn’t rank it higher is that I enjoy analyzing and reading about it slightly more than I actually enjoy watching it. However, it’s still a great piece of entertainment with fantastic performances by Stewart and Kelly.
At number 7 is…
Starring: Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier
Plot type: psychological examination of a past and just general psychological creepiness
Wrap-Up: With the first Hitchcock film I ever saw, we move out of the liking zone and into the loving zone of the list. This film really grates on your nerves, and features a part of the classic Cinderella story you’d don’t often get to hear. Hitchcock piles on the suspense, helped by Joan Fontaine playing a sympathetic character (at least in my eyes) and turning in a really freaked out performance, as well as Judith Anderson as one of the creepiest Hitchcock villains. Also George Sanders talks, and I’m a big fan.
At number 6 is…
Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Farley Granger, and John Dall
Plot type: the perfect crime
Wrap-Up: Hitchcock takes a lot of chances with this one, and in my opinion all of them payed off or at least did not hurt the film at all. This is one of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful, and it has an interesting philosophy behind it as well as great performances all around.
At number 5 is…
Starring: Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck
Plot type: innocent man wrongly accused AND psychological investigation into a past
Wrap-Up: This film has so much wrong with it, but I still love it so much. It has a ton of good stuff to overcome the not so good. Gregory Peck’s overacting is a draw back, and this puts a damper on the romance. He’s playing opposite Ingrid Bergman though, and she saves him (both in the story and in terms of performances). The supporting actors are good as well, and Hitchcock piles on the suspense, romance, psychoanalysis, and feminist debates.
Wrap-Up: Robert Walker gives a great performance as the villain, and this film boasts my favorite (and what I consider the best) Hitchcock murder scene. Though some of the supporting performances are lacking, overall this film is really good. The relationship between the main characters is especially fascinating, and this is another film where Hitch looks at a grimmer version of the innocent man wrongly accused.
At number 3 is…
Starring: Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins
Plot type: psychological examination into a past and general psychological creepiness
Wrap-Up: It’s probably a sin to have this so low on the list, but in all fairness number three is still really good. I have reasonable confidence that my top five are not going to change in later installments, so I can almost say it’s number three out of all of them so cut me some slack. I put off viewing this film for several years because I was afraid of it, and I knew all of the details of the story before going into it. That said, it was still one heck of a ride and that’s because Hitchcock is the master. Perkins gives a truly endearing and terrifying performance as Norman Bates.
Wrap-Up: I’m a sucker for romance and this one has it in spades. Bergman and Grant are great together, and Hitchcock derives the suspense from our concern for them. Rains is great as the likable and sympathetic villain in this; his intrusions give us the suspense. The film leads up to a very tense and dramatic conclusion.
And at number 1 is…
Starring: Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart
Plot type: psychological creepiness, voyeurism
Wrap-Up: I didn’t exactly keep it a secret that this is my favorite Hitchcock film; honestly it has a good chance of breaking into my top ten all time films the next time I reevaluate that list. Novak and Stewart are amazing in this film, but then again so is everything else (except for some of the dialogue, but really it’s overcome). Bernard Herrmann’s score, Hitchcock’s direction, and the messed-up story all make for a great film. It’s impossible not to analyze on some level, but it’s still an engrossing watch.
Though I feel like I’ve covered a lot of ground, there are so many more Hitchcock films to go. I might actually have to do three or four phases of this thing. The man made like fifty films; it’s a pretty impressive filmography to be honest. He made a bunch of silents, which I was previously unaware of. Out of the ones I’ve missed I’m most excited to get to Under Capricorn: mostly because it stars Ingrid Bergman and I’m curious to see how Hitchcock does a period piece, Torn Curtain: a later Cold War era Hitchcock starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, and both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much: he made it first in Britain in the thirties and then remade it with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day in the US in the fifties. I promise the suspense will resume…. sometime.
“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”