Tuesday, May 26, 2015

the Directors: Alfred Hitchcock

This is the one. The post I’ve been leading to. When I started my “the Directors” column in 2009, I knew that covering the great Alfred Hitchcock was a necessity, no matter how long it took. I’ve been chipping away at Hitch’s filmography for a good long while, and below is what I (finally) have to report. I do hope you enjoy my thoughts on every film by the Master of Suspense, and feel free to share your favorite Hitch films as well!

The Pleasure Garden (1925)
The main takeaway from The Pleasure Garden is its musical score, which is some of the most obnoxious music I can recall hearing in a film. The film itself tells a somewhat whimsical tale of unrequited love, set mostly in and around a showgirl theater. And while there are bold aspects of The Pleasure Garden that I appreciated (a drowning scene is particularly brave for the time period), there’s really no pressing reason to see this film, other than because it was Hitchcock’s first. D+

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Hitchcock always considered The Lodger to be the first “Alfred Hitchcock” film. And it’s easy to see why. The film, clearly taking notes from popular German Expression films of the era, is notable for its use of shadows, unique angles, and exciting parallel action. The movie is a wrong-man-on-the-run thriller in which a creepy lodger (a superb Ivor Novello) is suspected by his landlord of being a serial killer. The film’s closing sequence, in which a lynch mob chases the lodger on the dark and foggy streets of England, represents some of Hitchcock’s finest early work. B

Downhill (1927)
After being thrown out of boarding school for a theft he didn’t commit, Roddy returns home and is tossed out by his ashamed father. Roddy soon gains and loses a large sum of money, becomes a gigolo in Paris and continues to spiral downhill for the remainder of the film. The copy of Downhill I watched was a completely silent version – no dialogue, no sound effects, no musical score. This made for a rather laborious watch, which doesn’t bode well for a film clocking in at 73 minutes. Still, Hitchcock’s early flair is on display here. He does some very interesting things with crossfades, reverse angles and stark shadows. But like many of Hitchcock’s silent films, I can only recommend Downhill to Hitchcock completists. C-

Easy Virtue (1928)
In the midst of a woman denying the sexual advances of a painter, the woman’s drunk husband catches them and immediately files for divorce on grounds of adultery. Once the divorce is final, the woman flees to France to escape being branded as a woman of “easy virtue” from those who know her. She meets a man, falls in love, but the man’s family is suspicious of her past. Easy Virtue is only a decent film, but Hitchcock’s insistence on telling a raw, unflattering love story should not be overlooked. B-

The Ring (1927)
The Ring is about two boxers vying for the love of one woman. There’s really nothing to note about the film except the epic boxing fight it concludes with. The fight could be my favorite scene of Hitchcock’s early career. The romantic entanglement of the bout is obvious (whoever wins gets the girl), but no less endearing. And Hitch’s skill of capturing a pound-for-pound boxing match is a thrill to watch. B-

The Farmer’s Wife (1928)
A lonely farmer named Samuel Sweetland (whatta name) is distraught when his wife dies and his only daughter marries and leaves home. He soon enlists the help of one of his servants to find him a new wife. The Farmer’s Wife has a sweet premise, but it isn’t a very interesting thematic experience. Still, if you can last for its full 97 minutes, the ending is perfectly well earned. C

Champagne (1928)
In Champagne, a spoiled rich brat uses her daddy’s fortune from his champagne business to fuel her lavish lifestyle. Her father, having lost his patience for his daughter, pretends to lose his entire net worth, just to teach his daughter a lesson. Love and loyalty come into play, as does a mysterious man who seems to be following the girl. While it’s refreshing to see such light Hitchcock, Champagne is ultimately far too slight. Another film for Hitchcock completists only. D

The Manxman (1929)
The Manxman is a love triangle film that Hitch himself hated. He once told François Truffaut that “the only point of interest about that movie is that it was my last silent one.” Interestingly, the film was shot almost entirely on the island of Polperro, which marks one of Hitchcock’s rare departures from the security of a studio lot. C-

Blackmail (1929)
Blackmail was Hitchcock’s first talkie, and of Hitch’s early films (that is, pre-The Man Who Wasn’t There), Blackmail is my favorite. For 1929, it’s a damn risqué film, using themes of infidelity, sexual assault, and, of course, blackmail to tell its tale. The plot is about a young woman who kills the man she’s about to have an affair with. The cop assigned to the case turns out to be her actual boyfriend, and round and round they go. B

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
The lives of a down-and-out Irish family change drastically when they inherit a great deal of money. They celebrate and spend like crazy, all before receiving a dime of the inheritance. And when it appears that the money may not actually come through, the family is sent into greater disarray than ever before. Juno and the Paycock has good intentions, but it’s ultimately lost among Hitch’s vast filmography. D+

Murder! (1930)
Murder! marks Hitch’s first great use of sound. Though at times, it feels like deafening sounds are included simply because they can be. But this is only a minor annoyance, as much of the sound used in Murder! is technically proficient. The film, about a juror who investigates if a woman he just deemed guilty of murder is indeed guilty, is totally decent early Hitchcock fare. B-

The Skin Game (1931)
Two families battle over local land. The Hornblowers are buying up land and kicking farmers out to make room for factories, while the Hillcrists want to keep the farming culture intact. Blackmail comes into play and deals are struck to keep vital information a secret. Perhaps best remembered for its central auction scene, The Skin Game moves at a brisk pace, but isn’t a film worthy of revisiting. C+

Mary (1931)
Mary is a German remake of Hitchcock’s Murder!, shot at the same time as that film, using the same exact sets. This German version is 25 minutes shorter than the original film, but it is a far inferior effort than Murder! To be fair, the only copy of Mary I’ve seen came with very poor English subtitles. But while I may not have understood every word, Mary’s use of sound is amateurish (at best) to Murder’s. D

Rich and Strange (1931)
Bored with their average lives, Fred and Emily are told that an uncle will give them an advance on their inheritance, so that they can enjoy life right now. They use the money to go on a cruise and explore the world. Conflict soon arises, everything from seasickness to gold digging princesses. Rich and Strange is the epitome of slight Hitchcock. There’s really no reason to give this one a go. D

Number Seventeen (1932)
Number Seventeen is a thriller about a handful of people – jewel thieves, detectives, innocent bystanders, nosy neighbors – who battle it out in a house for 65 minutes. The plot is overly complicated, the editing is needlessly frantic, and, above all, Number Seventeen isn’t half as interesting as it intends to be. The concluding train scene is a little fun, but overall, this is a failed early effort from Hitchcock. D

Waltzes from Vienna (1934)
A musical about Johann Strauss creating his famed “The Blue Danube” doesn’t sound like a bad idea for a film. And while it’s a thrill to watch the Strauss character attempt to create his masterpiece, the movie is tedious and dull, and its central love story is seriously lacking. There’s a reason Hitchcock considered Waltzes from Vienna the worst film he ever made. D

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
While competing in Olympic-type games in Sweden, a married couple meets a stranger and forms a quick bond. That evening, the wife witnesses the stranger’s assassination. He passes her information before dying, and, as a result, thugs kidnap the married couple’s daughter in order to ensure their silence. Peter Lorre is great as the head villain, but the movie is best known for the climatic shootout that ends the picture. It’s a thrilling sequence, arguably the best scene in a Hitchcock film up until that point. Very clear why this was one of Hitch’s most revered efforts in Britain. B+

The 39 Steps (1935)
Early in The 39 Steps, Richard Hanney (Robert Donat) invites a woman back to his apartment, where she informs him that she is a spy, and casually warns him of something called “the 39 steps.” The woman is murdered that night, and Hanney is the main suspect. He flees and travels across Europe in order to clear his name and discover the meaning of the 39 Steps.

The dialogue is great, Donat is terrific and at 86 minutes, the movie cruises by. Story wise, The 39 Steps is pure Hitchcock, but his technical flourishes are all over this thing as well. Dutch angles, inventive insert shots – it’s a damn solid film. Essential Hitch. A-

Secret Agent (1936)
British captain, Edgar Brodie, comes home from WWI to discover that he is assumed dead in the press. To capitalize on this, Brodie is asked to execute a top secret mission and kill a German agent. Brodie arrives in Switzerland with a new identity and a fake wife (Madeleine Carroll) to help him complete the task. Secret Agent is best worth remembering for its chemistry between Carroll and Robert Young, a flirtatious gentleman also involved in the scheme. They have a rat-a-tat-tat rapport that is incredibly enjoyable. B

Sabotage (1936)
You’ve likely heard Hitchcock’s famous description of thrill vs. suspense. Scenario one: imagine a scene where two men sit in an office and talk. After five minutes, the office explodes. That’s thrilling. Scenario two: Imagine the same scene, but in the middle of the conversation, we cut to a shot of a bomb under the desk. For the rest of the scene, the audience is fearful of what may happen. That’s suspense.

Sabotage contains a key moment that plays out scenario two wonderfully. As a young kid unwillingly transports a bomb on a packed bus, we sit and watch in horror, expecting the worst. It’s a signature suspense moment of Hitch’s career. (Also, fans of Inglourious Basterds may appreciate the Sabotage reference found within Quentin Tarantino’s film.) B+

Young and Innocent (1937)
Robert notices the dead body of a young woman on a beach, and because he flees the scene (to get help), Robert is soon implicated in the murder. While not without its spirited moments, Young and Innocent has a cookie-cutter plot that fits a number of Hitch’s lesser films. Then the final scene comes. In that scene, one long, unbroken tracking shot occurs in which we start on a second floor landing, and make our way down to a close-up that finally reveals who the killer is. It’s a joy to watch now, and in 1937, it must have been astonishing. The film: C, that shot: A+

The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Much of The Lady Vanishes is set on a large commuter train. A young woman named Iris befriends the older Miss Froy; they talk and have tea together before retiring for the evening. When Iris wakes up the next day, Miss Froy is nowhere to be found. Moreover, no one on the train remembers seeing, meeting, or talking to Miss Froy. This is an interesting premise for a movie, one we’ve seen copied since. But in going back to the source, it’s clear that Hitch has a lot of fun with the concept. The main problem is that once the mystery of the missing Miss Froy subsides, the film is weighed down with too much subplot. Essentially, the first half of the movie is far more interesting than the second. Still, it’s easy to see why this is one of Hitchcock’s most admired early films. B

Jamaica Inn (1939)
A group of thieves force ships to wreck, and then kill everyone and steal everything on board. Matters are complicated when it’s revealed that a local justice for peace (Charles Laughton, in full hammed-up mode) is the man who secretly leads the gang. Jamaica Inn is a phony thriller that hopes its double and triple crosses are enough to keep us interested. Sadly, it’s one of the most boring films Hitchcock ever made. D

Rebecca (1940)
Shortly after a kind and innocent unnamed woman (Joan Fontaine) meets the rich and foreboding Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), the two get married and start a life together at Maxim’s large English estate. But as our heroine soon learns, there is a latent danger lurking all around her. Maxim’s recently deceased first wife, Rebecca, died under suspicious circumstances, which still greatly affects Maxim, and his cold-as-ice housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson). What sets Rebecca apart is its honest depiction of emotional torment. Fontaine is surrounded by dark and dangerous people, but she can’t find the means to escape. Rebecca is classic Hitch, and even today, Fontaine’s Oscar loss for Best Actress is baffling. A-

Foreign Correspondent (1940)
A brazen American reporter is sent to Europe to cover WWII. Within minutes of arriving, he becomes involved in a complex web of spies and lies, traitors and crooks. He quickly falls for the bad guy’s daughter and tries his best to save himself and his woman from the mess he’s entangled himself in.

Foreign Correspondent may not have as Hitchcockian a vibe as Rebecca (which won Best Picture over Foreign Correspondent in 1940), but it’s one of the most fun films of Hitch’s early work. And its closing plane crash sequence is exceptional. If nothing else, Hitch really knew how to end a film. B+

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
Mrs. Smith asks Mr. Smith if he could go do it all over again, would he actually marry her. He cautiously replies no, saying that a man changes when he gets married, and he would prefer to be single. In the next scene we realize that due to a minor technicality, Mr. and Mrs. Smith actually aren’t legally married. Mrs. Smith anxiously waits for her husband to ask her to officially marry, but when he doesn’t, she throws him out. While not without it’s fun moments (a trip to the fair turns into an amusing disaster), this is slight Hitchcock at best. It’s tedious, overly long (a bad sign, considering its 95-minute run time), and obvious as to where it’s going. C

Suspicion (1941)
Lina (Joan Fontaine) is a young woman from a wealthy family who meets a mischievous playboy named Johnnie (Cary Grant). Though Lina’s father doesn’t approve, Lina and Johnnie quickly marry, and she soon discovers that Johnnie is not the man he said he was. He’s a degenerate gambler with no job and plenty of debt. On top of all that, Lina suspects that Johnnie could be trying to kill her in an attempt to cash in on her life insurance policy. Suspicion won Fontaine the Oscar (which many considered the Academy trying to save face for her Rebecca snub), but nothing saves the film from its lame conclusion. Suspicion is certainly worth it, but its finale keeps it out of Hitch’s finest work. B-

Saboteur (1942)
Saboteur begins with an aircraft hangar going up in flames. A good old boy named Barry Kane is accused of starting the fire, which claimed the life of his friend. Knowing that a strange blonde man named Fry is the actual culprit of the fire, Kane runs from authorities and chases Fry across the country. His journey takes him from Los Angeles to New York, through the desert to the top of the Statue of Liberty. He meets strangers along the way (some kind, others cruel), falls into and out of police custody; it’s a classic man-on-the-run Hitchcock thriller. And the closing sequence, set atop Lady Liberty herself, is one of the best sequences of Hitch’s career. B+

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Charlie (Teresa Wright) suspects that her visiting uncle, also named Charlie (Joseph Cotten), is a serial killer hiding from the police. And once Uncle Charlie gets wind of his niece’s suspicions, the already excellent Shadow of a Doubt takes on a new dynamic of Did He or Didn’t He. The film is best remembered for its two excellent lead performances, as both Wright and Cotten have arguably never been better. The film’s best scene is its exciting conclusion on a high speed train. Because Cotten inhabits the creepy uncle role to such great effect, you fear that Uncle Charlie is capable of the worst during that sequence. And the film’s bold denouement is cynical in that perfect Hitchcock way. A

Lifeboat (1944)
After a battle between an allied ship and a German U-boat, a handful of allied civilians manage to get aboard a lifeboat. Shortly after, they rescue a survivor from the U-boat and argue about what to do with him. The entirety of Lifeboat takes place on the small boat itself, which is the most impressive aspect of the film. I give Hitchcock credit for limiting his narrative to such an enclosed space, but the film’s 96 minute running time is a real patience tester. B-

Spellbound (1945)
An emotionally cold doctor (Ingrid Bergman) is delighted when a young doctor (Gregory Peck) begins working at her hospital. The two form a tender romance, all while Peck’s strange behavior makes it clear that he isn’t who he says he is. Peck flees the institution, but Bergman soon finds him, only to discover he’s suffering from amnesia.

While Spellbound is considered by many to be near-classic Hitchcock, several scenes take too long to arrive at their point, resulting in a film that’s far longer than it needs to be. Though the Salvador Dalí-designed scene where Peck is psychoanalyzed is a real trip. It single-handedly makes the film worth it. B-

Notorious (1946)
Notorious is Alfred Hitchcock’s first true, uncontested masterpiece. Government agent T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) enlists Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the American daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, to infiltrate a Nazi group located in Rio de Janeiro. Alicia’s main assignment is to get close to Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), an old friend of her father. Before matters are fully underway, Devlin and Alicia fall in love, which makes Alicia’s assignment that much more difficult.

Grant and Bergman present one of the finest romances in cinema history (their infamous two and a half minute non-kiss kiss is one for the ages), while Claude Rains inhabits one of the best and sleaziest villains Hitchcock ever captured. Simply writing about this film makes me want to stop everything and watch it again. I so love unveiling its mystery and being taken by its charm. A+

The Paradine Case (1947)
Maddalena Anna Paradine, is accused of killing her blind husband, and it’s up to her attorney, Anthony Keane, to clear her in court. The first half of the film deals with Keane’s investigation on Paradine. Did she kill her lover, or is she an innocent pawn? When the court case takes over, the film becomes far less interesting, exploiting every court room cliché there is. Ultimately, The Paradine Case would’ve been better off discovering the truths of the crime in the field, as opposed to a court room. C+

Rope (1948)
Rope is set in a high rise Manhattan apartment and appears to take place in just a few long takes. In truth, the film contains 10 cuts, most of which are hidden. Many critics have taken Rope to task for being style over substance, which is true to a degree. When Rope begins, two young yuppie assholes murder their classmate for the hell of it, hide the body in a large chest, then throw a dinner party. Again, the manner in which the film was achieved is more impressive than the actual film itself, but Rope is still fun to pick apart, both in story and execution. B+

Under Capricorn (1949)
Under Capricorn has the makings of a great Hitchcock film – love triangle, guilt, murder, addiction, deception – but holy hell is it boring. Hitch was still obviously interested in long takes (as he achieved masterfully in Rope), but here they mostly fall flat. One of the least Alfred Hitchcock films Alfred Hitchcock made. D+

Stage Fright (1950)
Stage Fright is worth seeking out for a delicious Marlene Dietrich performance, and its closing narrative twist. But that’s slim praise at best, as Dietrich’s villainess isn’t nearly as ruthless as she could be, and the twist pales in comparison to others found in Hitchcock’s work. The film is about a famed actress who murders her husband, her lover who cleans it up, and an innocent girl who is caught in the middle. Dietrich makes the film worth it, even if Stage Fright remains lost among Hitch’s vast filmography. C

Strangers on a Train (1951)
Two men meet on a train and strike up a conversation. Guy (Farley Granger) is eager to divorce his wife so he can marry the woman he loves. Bruno (Robert Walker) wants to kill his father because Bruno is, well, batshit crazy. Bruno pitches an idea: he’ll kill Guy’s wife, and Guy will kill Bruno’s father. Their motives will be impossible to track, and they’ll both easily get away with their crimes. Guy freaks out and bails, but Bruno refuses to go away. Strangers on a Train is an ace Hitchcock thriller with two excellent lead performances. And its exciting conclusion (set on a carousel) remains one of Hitch’s best set pieces. A

I Confess (1953)
In a robbery gone wrong, Otto Keller accidentally kills a corrupt lawyer, Villette. Otto quickly confesses his sin to his priest, Father Logan (Montgomery Clift). Logan refuses to divulge any information about the case, and subsequently becomes the police’s main suspect. Putting my favorite all-time actor, Montgomery Clift, in a Hitchcock film seemed like a genius idea. Sadly, Hitchcock loathed the Method acting style, and had difficulty working with performers like Clift who practiced it. I Confess is good enough, but this collaboration could’ve been explored to better results. B-

Dial M for Murder (1954)
Early in Dial M for Murder, a husband (Ray Milland) blackmails a former classmate into killing his adulterous wife (Grace Kelly). The husband spends a lot of time explaining how the murderer should enter the apartment, how he should kill the wife, how he should leave, etc. After the murder is botched and the wife ends up killing the murderer in self-defense, everyone in the film (except the husband) attempts to figure out how and why this crime went down.

The entire movie falls on Milland’s shoulders. He spends most of the picture listening to people try to uncover his plot, and it’s up to him to sell us on the suspense of the situation. Because we know why he wanted his wife dead, the only mystery left in the film is if the husband will get away with it. I like Dial M for Murder well and good, but I’ve always felt it could arrive at its conclusion a little sooner. After all, Hitchcock’s films do have a tendency to over explain themselves. B+

Rear Window (1954)
No matter how many times I revisit Rear Window, its effect is never lessened. Set almost entirely inside a Greenwich Village apartment, Rear Window wisely never leaves the claustrophobic perspective of its hero, Jeff Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart). We’re stuck there with him. So when he suspects that his neighbor, Lars Thorwald, may have killed his own wife, it’s as if we’re discovering the crime with him. It’s a great marriage of film and audience participation – we understand Jeff’s obsession with Thorwald because we’re living it out too. Rear Window is Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. Certainly one of the finest suspense thrillers ever made. A+

To Catch a Thief (1955)
An infamous (but now retired) jewel thief, John Robie (Cary Grant,) is accused of several thefts at the French Riviera. To prove his innocence, he elects to find the new thief himself, befriending a wealthy jewel owner (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter (Grace Kelly) in the process. To Catch a Thief is a cheeky cat and mouse flick that may, at times, be a little too cute for its own good. But Robert Burks’ gorgeous, Oscar-winning cinematography is a Technicolor wonder. The look of this film makes you want to travel to the French Riviera immediately. B-

The Trouble with Harry (1955)
The Trouble with Harry is a pitch black comedy about a group of townspeople (including a baby-faced Shirley MacLaine) who discover a dead body and debate what to do with it. No one knows who killed poor old Harry Worp, but each person thinks they inadvertently had something to do with it. The humor of the film’s first half is the highlight of the movie. In one scene, two characters talk at great length about which direction Harry’s grave should face. One argues it’d be nice if it faced west, so “Harry can watch the setting sun.” That’s Hitch’s humor at its best, which is sorely lost once a cranky detective starts to investigate Harry’s disappearance later in the film. B

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Here’s a bigger, longer, more polished remake of Hitchcock’s own film from 1934. And while the plot is more or less the same, this version is too bloated for me to fully get on board with. The original film breezes by, occupying its 75 minutes with intense drama and a final, thrillingly-earned gun fight. Watching this remake, it feels like its struggling to fill its two hour running time. Although the remake was a much more successful film, thanks to Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day’s starring roles, my heart will always be with the original. B-

The Wrong Man (1956)
Henry Fonda (in one of his best roles) stars as a caring but poor musician wrongfully accused of committing a robbery. The accusation quickly threatens to ruin his life and the life of his family, namely his unstable wife. This is one of Hitchcock’s only films that is based on a true story (as the director informs the audience in the beginning of the film), and it’s also one of his best. I hadn’t seen The Wrong Man before researching this post, but I loved everything about it. It deserves to be ranked among Hitch’s finest work. A

Vertigo (1958)
You have to watch Vertigo a few times to even begin to get it. That lack of audience indulgence, of refusing to hold our hands and explain things, was so rare for an American film made in the ‘50s. Because of this, Vertigo was a critical and financial failure upon its release. But all great films take time to bloom, and its recent Sight & Sound ranking as the best film ever made has ushered in a whole new audience. The film is a mystery wrapped in a puzzle, featuring career-best work from Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, and many might argue, Hitchcock himself. I’ll leave that for you to discover. A+

North by Northwest (1959)
Revisiting the wrong-man-on-the-run motif explored in much of his work, North by Northwest follows a man as he travels across America to clear his name of crimes he didn’t commit. After he’s mistaken for a government agent, Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), is kidnapped and framed for murder. In his search for justice, Thornhill travels from New York to Chicago, from a dangerous crossroads near Indianapolis to the fatal peaks of Mount Rushmore. The extravagant set pieces in North by Northwest are what make the film one of Hitchcock’s most celebrated works. And James Mason and Martin Landua play some of Hitch’s all-time best goons. But it’s the playful ending of the film that I’m most fond of. Jump cut editing at its best. A-

Psycho (1960)
Psycho is one of my top 10 films of all time. I’ve seen this movie dozens upon dozens of times, and its appeal has never diminished. I love falling under the confused spell of Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates, a performance so legendary that simply typing out the character’s name makes me want to put the film on immediately. Psycho is so confident in its story, so audacious in its execution, so lastingly good, that words fail to do it justice. For me, Psycho will always be the Alfred Hitchcock film. A+

The Birds (1963)
One of Hitch’s most uncompromisingly vicious films, The Birds is a monster horror film classic. One thing that makes this movie so lastingly compelling is that we never know why the birds terrorize Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and the small northern California town she’s visiting. Much like Rear Window, The Birds puts us in the main characters’ shoes; we’re trying to figure out the mystery along with them, only this time, there really is no reasonable explanation. Hedren is great in the lead role, though knowing what she went through to deliver her performance is pretty damn upsetting. A-

Marnie (1964)
Marnie is the most fucked up Alfred Hitchcock movie that no one talks about (well, actually, it’s second to Frenzy, but still). I’ve written about Marnie a lot on this blog, always keeping plot details as sparse as possible, while encouraging everyone to check it out. The film is about an unsettled young woman (a career-best Tippi Hedren) who is racked with too many fears and phobias to count. But why? Marnie explores that question, while introducing a new suitor for its title character, played with terrifying menace by Sean Connery. This film deserves to be discussed a lot more among Hitchcock’s body of work. A-

Torn Curtain (1966)
An American rocket scientist (Paul Newman) travels to East Berlin, where it is revealed that he’s defecting to Germany. His fiancée (Julie Andrews) is none too pleased by this, but she soon learns he’s actually not a defector, but just pretending to be one in order to get German secrets for the American government. Torn Curtain has a lot going for it – great stars, interesting premise – but it’s dense, monotonous, and its two stars have an alarming lack of chemistry.

However, halfway through the movie, a grueling, four-minute long murder takes place that is one of the most intense deaths Hitchcock ever captured. Hitch intended to show how difficult it could be to actually kill someone, and he succeeded. Not to sound morbid, but it’s by far the best scene in the film. Unfortunately, that’s where the movie peaks, and it spends another 70 minutes slowly winding down. D+

Topaz (1969)
Topaz is a meandering mess, ranking among Hitch’s most failed efforts. The movie is about a Russian officer who deflects to the United States. Through the deflection, the Russian reveals that a secret French group (known as Topaz) is giving NATO secrets to the Russians. Hitchcock clearly tried to use the nuclear threat of the Cold War and the appeal of James Bond to make Topaz a success, but ultimately, this film is a disappointment, and a bloated one at that. D

Frenzy (1972)
Frenzy, Hitchcock’s first British film since Stage Fright in 1950, is the most violent film Hitch ever made. This flick doesn’t pull any punches; it’s a hard-R that many never knew Hitchcock had in him. The film’s plot concerns itself with a serial killer who rapes women and strangles them to death with neckties. Hitchcock shoots many of the murders up close and personal (while thankfully not showing the sexual assaults) and the result is truly shocking. Although never grotesque, the film’s violence crosses a line that seems to energize Hitchcock. It’s as if he wanted to capture something this severe for decades, but was only now allowed to. A

Family Plot (1976)
A fake psychic and her boyfriend try to locate the absent nephew of one of their older, more gullible clients. The client knows her nephew was up for adoption years ago, but wants to find him and appoint him as heir to her fortune. Little does she know that her nephew makes a living kidnapping people and holding them hostage for diamonds. Family Plot is a dark comedy, but a feeble one at best. It’s great to see the cast at play (no one chews scenery quite like William Deuvane), and the car “chase” is a lot of fun. It’s a slight film, but at 75 years old and 53 movies under his belt, Hitch was allowed to go out any way he saw fit. B-

In Summation
Masterful
Shadow of a Doubt 
Notorious 
Rear Window 
Vertigo 
Psycho 
Frenzy 

Great
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
The 39 Steps 
Rebecca 
Foreign Correspondent 
Saboteur 
Rope 
Strangers on a Train 
Dial M for Murder
The Wrong Man
North by Northwest 
The Birds
Marnie

Good
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog 
Easy Virtue 
The Ring 
Blackmail
Murder! 
Secret Agent 
Sabotage 
The Lady Vanishes
Suspicion 
Lifeboat
Spellbound 
I Confess
To Catch a Thief 
The Trouble with Harry 
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Family Plot

Eh
The Pleasure Garden 
Downhill 
The Farmer’s Wife 
Champagne 
The Manxman 
Juno and the Paycock 
The Skin Game 
Young and Innocent 
Mr. & Mrs. Smith 
The Paradine Case 
Under Capricorn 
Stage Fright
Torn Curtain

Just Plain Bad
Mary
Rich and Strange
Number Seventeen 
Waltzes from Vienna 
Jamaica Inn 
Topaz

62 comments:

  1. This was the post I was craving to read in your blog Alex and you've managed to outdo even yourself. This ranks seriously among the best articles I've ever read about the great Hitchcock's filmography - and trust me, I've read MANY of them. A pleasure to read and definitely an incredible tribute to the phenomenal talent of that unbelievably talented filmmaker. His body of work remains awe-inspiring to say the least. And Vertigo remains in my mind the best film ever made.

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    1. Dude, thank you so much! I'm so pleased you like the post, and your high regards for it mean the world to me. Vertigo... what a masterful picture. It played in an LA theater last weekend but I missed it!

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  2. Congratulations Alex. What a comprehensive, beautifully written piece. I've been waiting to read this for this for so long! Rear Window is probably my personal favourite although Vertigo is constantly threatening that position. This post is the perfect incentive to delve into Hitchcock's world. In the blogging realm, this I would consider this post your magnum opus :P

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    1. Thanks Angela! Magnum opus, I like that. It's definitely the longest post I've ever written, and I'm so glad you like it. Rear Window and Vertigo... you can never go wrong there.

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  3. Ah, thank you so much for this list! Gratitude from one film-lover to another.

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    1. Thanks Sarah! Really appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

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  4. Finally, so great. It takes time to get Vertigo, you know? I saw the first half, hated it. Years later, I saw the whole film and now I go back an forth between Vertigo and Psycho. Psycho is timeless and endless re-watchable, but Vertigo grows on you.

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    1. This makes me want to rewatch Vertigo as soon as possible. It really does grow on you. Gets better and better with every viewing.

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    2. Question: you've seen all the films before to write or did you watch a movie and then wrote somethong about it?

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    3. I had seen about half of them before I started writing. The other half (which were mostly his early films) I watched and wrote about as I went.

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  5. Impressive write-up, Alex, with quite a few films from the British era that I still haven't caught up with. (Unfortunately, it looks like I haven't missed anything vital.) Vertigo was a favorite of mine from the first time I saw it, at about 12 years old, before I fully understood its sexual underpinnings. Every time I've seen it since has yielded new discoveries. Even its imperfections--the disappearing ice cubes, the wooden line readings of Tom Helmore (perhaps intentional?), that lighting mishap in the bookstore--are captivating. It's an easy film to become obsessed with.

    I hold Young and Innocent, Foreign Correspondent and The Trouble with Harry in a bit higher esteem than you do and The Wrong Man a bit less. Harry, in particular, is my cinematic comfort food. Somehow, Hitchcock managed to balance the coal-black humor and good-natured charm of that script, thanks in part to a wonderful group of character actors who--MacLaine aside--never became marquee names on their own. There are lines in that film ("She's a well-preserved woman...", "He looked the same when he was alive, only vertical," "A double bed") that make me smile just thinking about them. In my mind, it's Hitchcock's unheralded masterpiece.

    The Wrong Man is probably worth a revisit, but it always struck me as a bit too melodramatic for Hitch. His use of space and lighting are interesting: The film plays more like film noir than the kinds of adventure romps he was delving into at the time. My strongest memory of the film, though, is that bland performance by Vera Miles, which made me thankful that she wasn't available for the Kim Novak role in Vertigo. I don't understand what Hitch saw in her.

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    1. Love the snappy dialogue in Harry. I did enjoy that one, but the humor fades a bit in the second half, which kind of bums me out. The Wrong Man really took hold of me. You're right, it's really his only noir, but I'm into it. I need to rewatch Vertigo again and pay close attention to those things you pointed out. Very interesting.

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  6. Goddamn... you did it. You nabbed a giant. So far, this list is what I've seen from him so far as I'm planning to do some Hitchcock later this year. If ever decide to do his entire body of work. It would be a bucket list that I hope to fufill.

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    1. Oh, any more cinematic giants you plan to do very soon like... Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, Ford?

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    2. Great list, love that Psycho comes out on top for you too. Bergman, man. Gotta be Bergman next. Been chipping away at that one for years.

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  7. Okay bookmarking this for later reference.

    I've only watched 13 of his films and obviously I'm a fan. I need to see the others, especially Frenzy because that's the only one in your "masterful" list I haven't seen. Psycho is definitely my favourite too but it's also the only one apart from Rear Window I have watched multiple times. Need to rewatch some of these too.

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    1. Thirteen is a lot! Definitely check out Frenzy... it's way more fucked up than I thought Hitch was capable of.

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  8. Wow. I don't feel entirely qualified to comment on this, cos I've only seen about half his output and most of them I last saw many years ago. (Including Psycho, which I saw for the first and only time in 1993, I believe.) And I've never seen some of the acknowledged greats. So I'll limit myself:

    The Lodger probably is his best early work for my money (that opening montage!);
    I liked The Manxman more than you or Hitchcock did, and I remember Rich and Strange being quite good (again, haven't seen since probably early 90s), think I liked Mr & Mrs Smith more than you too;
    Number 17 is probably the worst Hitchcock film I've seen;
    Never seen Waltzes From Vienna but the very idea of Hitchcock making such a thing intrigues me;
    Sabotage is probably my favourite Hitchcock film;
    Lady Vanishes = great, probably works better as comedy than as thriller;
    With you on the superiority of the 1934 MWKTM;
    I *really* don't get the general love for Vertigo. I've seen it several times (including a big-screen reissue in 70mm back in the mid-90s), it's *good*, I just don't think it's THAT good and I really don't understand the acclaim;
    Psycho I... actually didn't like that much when I saw it, which, as I said, was admittedly 22 years ago. Suspect a rewatch might help (it did take a few viewings to appreciate The Birds—the ending irritated the hell out of me when I was 15, but years later I did realise what you say about there being no reasonable explanation is right);
    No Aventure Malgache or Bon Voyage? What about his TV episodes?

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    1. Great comment! Love your thoughts on these films. Sabotage needs more love, that's a really solid film. The Lady Vanishes... I love that first half so much, but then it kind of falls out for me. Still a fun one though.

      I treat shorts and TV shows as bonuses in these posts. I've seen some of Presents, but didn't feel it necessary to include it here, you know?

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  9. Amazing list Alex, im glad you pulled trough

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  10. Well I only saw 5, but at least those 5 include Marnie which was excellent, Read all of the post and it was so informative - great job! I definitely wanna see Rebecca and Stage Fright now

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    1. Thanks! I think you'd like Rebecca. It's so good. And I'm thrilled you've seen and enjoyed Marnie. I wish more people talked about that movie.

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  11. Amazing job Alex, I've been hoping you'd write this one for a while now. I've only got 5 Hitchcock films left to see (Juno and the Paycock, Mary, Torn Curtain, Topaz and Frenzy) and an additional three to review (Saboteur, Spellbound and Dial M For Murder), all of which I'm hoping to knock out this October along with Hitchcock, The Girl and High Anxiety in my second annual HitchcOctober celebration. Next year I might start on Hitchcock Presents!

    I agree with a lot of your thoughts, especially the joyful surprise of discovering The Wrong Man, which I agree is fantastic. I liked Lady Vanishes more than you I think, and Stage Fright too. Also Jamaica Inn was a treat for me, as I watched it on holiday in Cornwall, only a couple of miles from where it was set, but had no idea about that until I started watching it. Of the ones you liked, my biggest disagreement is Shadow of a Doubt, but I think I'm in the minority on that one. Oh, and Marnie. I didn't like Marnie at all. Cannot understand how it made it onto the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. The only good part was the scene where Hedren is robbing Connery's safe, with the cleaner just outside the office.

    If you feel the urge to watch Elstree Calling for Hitchcock's contribution to it, don't bother. It's negligible at best, and not worth your time.

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    1. Awesome man, can't wait for those posts in October. That is cool that you saw Jamaica Inn close to where it's set. And while we do disagree on Shadow of a Doubt and Marnie, it's all good. Can't agree on 'em all!

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  12. Excellent post! I haven't seen a lot of these films so I found this to be really informative.

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    1. Thanks Brittani! Really glad you like the post.

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  13. Very impressive, Alex! I've seen a lot of Hitchcock but still have a long way to go, especially with his early films. Blackmail is as far back as I've gone with him.

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    1. Thanks, Dan! Pre-Blackmail I can only really vouch for The Lodger. The rest are kind of blah.

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  14. Great read, there's some awesome mosaics at Leytonstone station (Hitch's place of birth) that depicted his most famous films. I walk past them quite frequently because my mate lives in Leytonstone. They've been up a while so you might already be aware of them

    Here's a link that shows the mosaics.

    http://www.thejoyofshards.co.uk/london/hitch/

    Anyway, my personal favourite Hitchcock is North by Northwest, the only Hitchcock film I've seen that I didn't like is Torn Curtain, a film where I only remember Paul Newman falling down the stairs in the most unconvincing fashion I have ever seen.

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    1. Oh wow, I love those mosaics, thanks for linking them here! Ugh, Torn Curtain, what a slog that one is.

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  15. OMG! This post is everything! It's also reminding me that I have SO MUCH of his work left to see. Great job here, buddy! I better get to movie watching.

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    1. Thanks dude! I really appreciate that!

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  16. Great work. Damn, he really made a lot of movies. I have seen only Psycho (one of my all time favorite movies as well), Vertigo, North by Northwest, Rear Window and The Birds. I loved all of those so i really should get a move on a check out some more of his work. I own the DVD set with most of his movies on it, but i have become such a blu-ray snob lately that i want to get the blu-ray set instead before i check out some more. Reading this definitely gave me the push to go on Amazon and order it right now. I don't need to eat next month.

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    1. Haha, Hitchcock is more important than food! He has so many great films to dive into, so I do hope you enjoy them. Notorious is incredible.

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  17. LOVE the post! I really admire you for going through his whole filmography and writing such an exhaustive post, well done! My favourite has to be Vertigo, it was my first Hitchcock and I'll always love it the most. I'm glad you like Marnie! That's an underrated gem in his collection.

    For me, with Hitchcock, even if I didn't like a film he made, I still appreciate it for the sheer fact that he was able to make that many films in the first place, and also because it must have meant he put 100% into each of his efforts.

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    1. Thanks Aditya! You're so right, Hitchcock is one of those rare directors who while I may not like every film he made, I appreciate the fact that he made so many of them. Man was damn prolific and almost always had his signature all over his own films, which certainly isn't easy.

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  18. This is such a brilliant post. I commend you sir for tackling his long list of movies.

    My top 10 Hitchcock:
    Psycho
    Rear Window
    Strangers On A Train
    North By Northwest
    Notorious
    Rope
    Frenzy
    Vertigo
    Shadow of A Doubt
    Rebecca

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    1. Also, if you haven't read Hitchcock/Truffaut, I highly recommendit. It's the bible for Hitchcock fans.

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    2. Thanks man! Love your list, mine would look damn similar. I love Hitchcock/Truffaut, have read it a few times.

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  19. This is an amazing post. I've only seen a handful of these so far.

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  20. So impressive that you've seen all his films. I've seen everything from the first Man Who Knew Too Much forward but I'm spotty on his earlier work. It looks like I've seen the better ones, The Lodger, Easy Virtue, Blackmail, and Murder! and it doesn't appear that I need to be too dogged in pursuit of the others.

    There are a couple favorites I would rate higher, and a few, Vertigo and Psycho among them, which I like but have never loved as much as most people do. But by and large your grades would be mine too. God how terrible is Topaz!! It has a promising story but it's such a miss, if they have to remake a Hitchcock why don't they try and fix that one instead of tampering around with Strangers on a Train!

    My top 10:
    Saboteur-I have such a weakness for Priscilla Lane
    Lifeboat
    Rear Window
    The Birds
    Strangers on a Train
    Notorious
    North by Northwest
    Shadow of a Doubt
    The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)-Jimmy Stewart/Doris Day pairing makes this one for me.
    Sabotage

    One project that I wish had come to fruition was a property called Smiler with a Knife based on a story written by Cecil Day-Lewis (Daniel's father). Hitchcock considered it but when he decided against it Orson Welles then took it up, each wanted Carole Lombard to star but she turned both down then Welles proposed Lucille Ball but the project fell apart and Welles moved on to Citizen Kane. Would have loved to see either version.

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    1. I am SO with you about remaking already great films. Makes no sense to me. Why not try to improve upon an inferior film, as opposed to remaking one that is already so loved? But Topaz... man, so bad.

      Loved your list, and I loved your info about Smiler with a Knife. That would've been a great Hitch film right there. Thanks for this epic comment!

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  21. Wow that's quite an effort to get through all of his 53 movies. I have only seen 12! My favourite definitely being North By Northwest. Never get tired of that one; it's my favourite movie made before 1968 (2001 being in my all time top 10). Of the others I've seen Rear Window, Psycho and Vertigo are also great movies. He was really on a roll in the 50's into the 60's. Of the many that I haven't seen I'm keen to see Notorious, Spellbound, Rebecca, Marnie and The Wrong Man.

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    1. Awesome that you dig NxNW that much. It does get better every time I see it, no question. That final jump cut is everything. You have some excellent Hitch films ahead of you - I hope you enjoy them!

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  22. Whoa you are a Hitchcock master! I only have seen 2, Psycho-which I love and strangers on a train, not too fond. I surely highlight the ones you find great

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    1. I do love ole Hitch! Hope you're able to check out some of his other classics soon!

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  23. Holy bananas this is a great post! I just noted your masterful selection of movies to add to my future watch-list. I haven't seen enough Hitchcock, unfortunately!!!!

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    1. Haha thanks! Hope you like those masterful films!

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  24. Great roundup, you are the only person I know who has seen all of Hitchcock's filmography.

    There are a trio of his films I go back to every so often: Vertigo, North By Northwest & Psycho. They never get old.
    The last 3 years I discovered Strangers on a Train and Dial M For Murder, which are great too. Your post makes me aware there are so many I have yet to see!

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    1. Yeah man, Vertigo, Psycho and NxNW are classics I can watch over and over. Love them. Love Strangers and Dial M too. Thanks for the comment my friend!

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  25. Very impressive, that long list of early films, many of which are silent, is a bit intimidating to me. I'm not sure I would have the patience. The slightly over half of Hitchcock's 53 that I have seen, all live in the top half of your list. My copy of Vertigo comes from a laser disc of the restored version after it's mid-eighties remastering. That film is amazing and the music haunts me still. Psycho and Rear Window are essential classics and the music for Psycho rings in my ears frequently. Frenzy was actually the first Hitchcock I saw on the big screen, it is a neglected masterpiece with a macabre sense of humor. That scene in the potato truck is suspenseful and hysterical. My personal favorite is probably North By Northwest because Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint seduce each other in such a sexy and sophisticated way. James Mason is unctuously slimy and Martin Landau is disturbing. The title sequence is as brilliant as the case at Mt. Rushmore.

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    1. YES! Another Frantic fan. That's great to hear - love finding other people who appreciate that one. This filmography was definitely a patience tester. There were so many days when I'd sit down with the intention of binging some of those early silent films, and I could never do more than one at a time. Definitely a long slog.

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  26. Wow. This is one hell of a post I might have to come back to several times before I digest it all and really spend time on your summarized reviews. Two years ago I attempted to do something similar, I was to watch 24 films by Hitchcock in one year. My life sneaked up behind me and it hasn't let go ever since. The result was that I only got to 7 films, 6 of which were new to me. I did not want to start out slow, so I went for the so-called classics, starting with North by Northwest and ending with Notorious. Though I instantly became a fan of the director's director, I've been unable or unwilling to really go through the list of his work. Perhaps I shall follow your lead. Lets hope time is on my side. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I couldn't agree more on what you said for nearly all of the ones I've seen. For me, I can't decide between Vertigo, Rear Window and Psycho, even though I do think that Psycho is, by far, the most timeless of all of his work. It will never feel old.

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    1. Thanks man! You have no idea how many times I sat down (like you did) with the intention of crushing out Hitch film after Hitch film. But life always got in the way for me too. There is just so many films of his to get through. So happy to hear your praise for Psycho - nope, it'll never get old.

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  27. Fantastic job! I've been awaiting this post for some time. ;) Hitchcock's easily one of my favorite filmmakers, though I haven't seen about 20 of his films - most of them early ones. Vertigo is firmly in my top 5 of all time, and Rear Window just misses my top 10. I also adore Dial M for Murder, The Birds, Psycho, and North by Northwest, among several others. Love this epic post, man!

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    1. Thanks dude! Vertigo played in a theater here last month and I missed it! I was so bummed. Would love to see that one on the big screen. What a classic.

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  28. As always, you've made a marvelous post, Alex. You're appreciation for Hitchcock really shines through.

    Sadly, this has always been one of my stronger unpopular opinions. I've seen Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest, and Dial M For Murder. I will admit, Rear Window is a masterpiece, and Psycho and Vertigo have their moments, but the rest of his work has never done anything for me. I never felt like I was watching a Master of Suspense, I felt like I was watching a, dare I say, hack. I've given North by Northwest several chances, and I only come away from it hating how rushed its plot is, how unsufferably bad Cary Grant's performance is, how entirely forgettable its story and characters are, and most importantly, how godawful that ending is. That's got to be one of the worst endings I've ever seen! As for the Birds, I want my two hours back. I've never been so bored in my life. Also, how was Dial M for Murder a thriller. I honestly have no idea what scenes were supposed to be suspenseful. It's a vaguely interesting melodrama, but as a thriller, it fails completely.

    Okay, there. I've vented. I'm sorry. I'm going to go sit in my corner now.

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    1. It's all good man. We all have our opinions. Believe me, I have a few unpopular ones about renowned filmmakers. Hey, we like what we like.

      The only response I'll offer to you is that taking Hitch's work into context is important. Thrillers (bad and great ones) are a dime a dozen today, but when Hitch was making them, he owned the genre. In the U.S., anyway. No one was doing what he was doing, and many (many, many, many) films made today would not exist were it not for his influence. I'll admit, sometimes going back to the source isn't as inspiring as it should be. But it is important to acknowledge that it is the source.

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    2. Thanks, Alex, for being so cool about it. I do appreciate his influence, and that his work was very ahead for its time. But like you said, sometimes going back to the source isn't as inspiring as it should be. And I like Rear Window, and I'm still going through his filmography, searching for a gem I'll like more.

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    3. Gotcha man. I completely get where you're coming from!

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