Merry Christmas to all celebrating it! Today’s subject for this month’s Discovery post might not be too Christmas-y, but let’s talk about Hitchcock.
The Discovery: Since I’ve never been much of a fan of thrillers, I always had the strange idea that the films of Alfred Hitchcock wouldn’t be to my liking. I didn’t see my first Hitchcock movie until I was in my junior year of college. It was North by Northwest – and after watching it, I knew that I had been terribly wrong about Hitchcock. It captivated me, and I marveled at how a movie could be so entertaining. Only then did I realize how much I was missing.
Thoughts on the Body of Work: My suspicion of Hitchcock’s films as too thriller-y ended as soon as I started watching North by Northwest. I’ve found that Hitchcock’s films always had a dazzling blend of thrills, romance, and humor that made them simply electric. Some (North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, Stage Fright, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, Psycho) favor the mystery/thriller aspect, while others (Rebecca, Suspicion, Spellbound, Notorious, To Catch a Thief) favor the darkly romantic angle. Vertigo seems to fit neatly in both categorizations. Hitchcock’s films have a number of great premises, ranging from a young woman who suspects that a beloved uncle is a murderer (Shadow of a Doubt), to a priest who hears a confession of a murder and is later framed for that same murder (I Confess), and to many more.
One aspect of Hitchcock’s films I feel I haven’t really delved into is his work when he was still in Britain. I have seen one of his silent movies (The Manxman) and one of his other British films (The 39 Steps). The Manxman seemed to me to be the least “Hitchcock” of the films I have seen, though it’s a perfectly solid silent film in its own right.
Finally, how can I talk about Hitchcock’s movies without mentioning his cameos? My favorite has to be him in the photograph in Dial M for Murder, which elicited a bunch of laughter when I saw the movie on the big screen.
Favorites: Picking favorites was pretty difficult for the films of Hitchcock, since I enjoyed most of them for different reasons. Rear Window, for example, is a marvel of confined dramatic tension. The only film I actively disliked was Spellbound; although I usually like Gregory Peck, he seemed miscast in this one, and I didn’t buy into the movie at all. That said, here are five of the sixteen I have seen that I feel I would rewatch multiple times.
- North by Northwest: Perhaps it’s the charm of the first Hitchcock seen, but I think that North by Northwest is one of the most entertaining movies ever made. The second time I saw this film was in a screenwriting class, and we analyzed its structure, which made me appreciate it so much more.
- Vertigo: I don’t know what to think about Vertigo other than to say that I find it impossible to look away when it’s on the screen.
- The 39 Steps: This one was a surprise for me. It’s a great mystery with a few twists I wasn’t anticipating, and with a good deal of the action set in Scotland, it’s not difficult to imagine that I’d enjoy it.
- Rebecca: My love of this one is largely because of the book, which became a favorite of mine as soon as I set it down. Hitchcock translated the story superbly given the restrictions of the production code.
- Strangers on a Train: Before seeing this, I had only seen Robert Walker as the lovestruck soldier in Since You Went Away. His turn as Bruno in Strangers on a Train is a complete 180 from that character – and what a performance it was. Topped with the tension so typical of Hitchcock, and you have a genuinely taut thriller.
Will I continue the discovery?: Though this initial discovery hasn’t made me a Hitchcock megafan, I certainly would like to see more of his work. I’ve wanted to see The Birds for a while, but after reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and loving her writing, I want to read her original short story first. I’m also quite interested in Rope, The Lady Vanishes, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. What other films would you recommend for me?