75 years ago, director Alfred Hitchcock, buoyed by the success of films such as “The Lady Vanishes” and “The 39 Steps”, emigrated from his London home to Hollywood where he would be responsible for some of the most frightening and intense films in cinematic history. Although growing up I was always a casual Hitch fan I became completely hooked when the PBS station in San Francisco ran a day-long festival of “Rear Window”, “North By Northwest”, “Rope” and “The Birds” when I lived there in the 80’s and I immediately set out on a quest to see every film the director made, not fully comprehending what a monumental task that would be. Oh sure, “The Birds” and “Psycho” were always on, especially once Turner Classic Movies came on the scene and I stumbled onto a double feature of “The Trouble With Harry” and “Topaz” one night on some obscure Connecticut TV station, but you try tracking down “Waltzes in Vienna”, “Under Capricorn” or “Young and Strange”.
I finally completed my Hitchcock journey a couple of years back when I discovered my last hold-out “The Skin Game” in the $2.99 bin at an old DVD store (yes children, they used to have those) and my trek finally came to a conclusion. Along the way there were the classic films we all know and love like “Psycho”, “Rear Window” and “Rebecca” but what was most satisfying about my quest was finding hidden gems such as “Blackmail”, “Sabotage” and the silent classic, “The Lodger”.
So in celebration of Alfred Hitchcock crossing the Atlantic 75 years ago to start making films for Hollywood, BOI presents our 30 favorite movies from the Master Of Suspense (Part One–#’s 30-16)
30) LIFEBOAT (1944)
Hume Cronyn and Tallulah Bankhead star as two of the boatload of survivors of a torpedoed ship during WWII clinging to a lifeboat in the Atlantic who ultimately pull a German U-boat sailor out of the water. The film will never be listed as an action adventure but it’s a terrific character study and Hitch clearly adores the dichotomy of the survivors.
29) FRENZY (1972)
Wrongly accused (a common theme throughout Hitchcock’s films) Jon Finch goes on the run from Scotland Yard in an attempt to prove his innocence in mod, early-70’s London. Far from Hitch’s best but pretty impressive suspense and grisly fun from a man who was in his 70’s at the time and in failing health. One can’t help but wonder what a better cast might have done with this (sorry, Barry Foster).
28) THE WRONG MAN (1956)
See, what did I tell you? This time around Henry Fonda plays a man wrongly accused of holding up an insurance office in Jackson Heights, New York. Excellent supporting cast with Vera Miles and Anthony Quayle as the lawyer set on proving Fonda’s innocence.
27) MARNIE (1964)
Not generally regarded in Hitchcock’s upper echelon of directing efforts, “Marnie” is enjoyable for the premise (Sean Connery marries kleptomaniac Tippi Hedren, who he tries to reform) and the supporting players (“hey, that’s Bruce Dern”, “look, the butler from “Batman””, “is that Mariette Hartley?”), plus it’s supposedly the film that Hitch doggedly pursued his (ultimately unsuccessful) sexual conquest of Hedren.
26) THE PARADINE CASE (1947)
If one looks at this film as a courtroom drama it falls rather flat. What does propel this film is the brilliant cast, including Gregory Peck, Louis Jordan, Ethel Barrymore and one of BOI’s all-time favorite actors, Charles Laughton, who simply chews up every scene he’s in.
25) SECRET AGENT (1936)
Sir John Gielgud and Madeleine Carroll track down a German spy during World War I. The film was part of the four spy films Hitch made between 1934-1936, a genre the director would later revisit with “Notorious” and “North By Northwest”. For anyone who’s experience watching Gielgud movies begins and ends with “Arthur”, the film is a showcase for what an accomplished actor he really was.
24) SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)
And you think you have family issues. Teresa Wright discovers that her namesake and beloved Uncle Charlie may have more sinister plans in mind than just stealing an extra piece of cake at Thanksgiving dinner. Joseph Cotten provides a lesson in good acting as the dashing gentleman who has an ulterior motive in charming the town’s wealthy ladies.
23) DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)
I think if he hadn’t used the title back in 1929, Hitchcock could easily have named this thriller/drama, “Blackmail”. Someone’s blackmailing Grace Kelly. But wait, Ray Milland is blackmailing someone to do away with Grace for her inheritance. And what does Robert Cummings have up his sleeve? It’s definitely not new territory for the helmer but the movie is enjoyable and there are far more objectionable activities than watching Grace Kelly for 105 minutes.
22) THE LODGER (1927)
One of Hitchcock’s great atmospheric thrillers. Landlady Mrs. Bunting (Marie Ault) begins to suspect that her new tenant (the ultra creepy Ivor Novello) is the man responsible for a string of London murders. The director’s most effective silent film, “The Lodger” is eerie fun as Hitchcock uses the England capital’s ever-present fog as a main component. Watch late at night with the lights off and if you have a humidifier that can produce a fog effect, that’s even better.
21) I CONFESS (1953)
Definitely an oddball in the director’s body of work, “I Confess” stars Montgomery Clift as a priest who refuses to tell police what has been confessed to him about a recent murder, landing him as a prime suspect. Clift is exceptional (as always) as the conflicted priest who has police detective Karl Malden breathing down his neck. I will admit the film is not for everybody (it’s painfully slow at times) but ultimately it’s an excellent character study with fine performances and it’s Hitch’s one and only foray into the realm of the Catholic church.
20) VERTIGO (1958)
WHAT??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? AFI NAMED THIS THE BEST FILM OF ALL TIME AND YOU HAVE IT AT #20??? Relax, I will confess that I am remiss in not giving this film another chance. I saw it on a very bad blind date when I lived in Detroit and have only seen bits and pieces of it since. I hereby avow to find it on TCM some night and reserve the right to move this up the chart if warranted. But for now, all I can think of is being embarrassingly perplexed by the plot twists and constantly hearing “can we go yet?” from Diane Westerberg for 128 minutes.
19) STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)
Just to get into the spirit of this 1951 classic I bought the DVD and watched it, yes, on an Amtrak en route to Washington, DC. Robert Walker meets Farley Granger aboard a train and concocts a plan for each to kill someone in the other’s lives. Granger is horrified as Walker holds up his end of the bargain and the drama never lets up from there. The ultimate “what if…” movie.
18) SABOTEUR (1942)
A full synopsis of this film would take up two double spaced pages but suffice it to say that “Saboteur” involves an aircraft factory fire, fascists and a man on the run. Robert Cummings (yes again) goes on the run to clear his name (yes again), picks up Priscilla Lane (who inexplicably gets top billing here) along the way and battles fascist saboteurs, ultimately resulting in a mano-a-mano battle atop the Statue Of Liberty which remains one of my favorite scenes in movie history. Otto Kruger and Norman Lloyd (you’re correct TV fans, Dr. Auschlander from “St. Elsewhere”) co-star.
17) ROPE (1948)
Let’s get one thing out of the way, if you read the screenplay on “Rope” you’d probably think it would result in one of Hitchcock’s more ordinary films. Two ex college students murder one of their friends and hide his body in their apartment, where they lure friends and family in for a dinner party. One of their old professors, James Stewart, begins to suspect that there’s something more frightening inside the living room coffee table than a throw blanket and a set of Catskills drink coasters. But alas, here’s the novelty of this movie…the film appears to be one long camera shot. There are seemingly no cuts…it all appears to be one take. Actually it isn’t, it’s a series of 11 seamlessly edited cuts that make it appear to be a straight 80 minutes of footage. I sure hope the film’s editor won an Oscar that year.
16) THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956 & 1934)
C’mon, how often do you encounter a director who will remake his own film? 1934’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” proves to be an acceptable spy thriller, enlivened by the wonderful performance of Peter Lorre but it’s the 1956 version that is required viewing. James Stewart and Doris Day star as an American couple on vacation in Morocco (you couldn’t have just gone to Yellowstone instead?) who become embroiled in espionage and the kidnapping of their son, Hank. Actresses breaking into song don’t exactly run rampant in Hitchcock films but Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera” is actually integral to the storyline and to the ultimate climax of the film. Hitch clearly loves his cast and relishes the chance to one-up his 1934 version.
COMING TOMORROW: #’S 1-15