5 Hitchcock Films You Should Watch Instead Of Watching HITCHCOCK

Jason Gorber, Featured Critic
Coming to theatres this week is Hitchcock, a truly misguided film ostensibly about the making of Psycho and the relationship between Hitch and his wife Alma. When it debuted at AFI Fest recently, our own Ryland Aldrich had a positive first impression, feeling that director Sascha Gervasi "delivered an expertly crafted film that avoids the trappings of melodrama to tell an interesting and actually quite fun story about a historical figure of enormous weight."

Personally, I found it to be quite abhorrent. Forgetting the many liberties it takes with the making of that seminal film and the actual biographical events that fueled its creation, Hitchcock's cloying, tongue-in-cheek tone, mixed with a gimmick that suggests the great director was mentally ill, are most aggravating. In short, the film is nothing more than a rapacious, poorly executed biopic, greedily drawing from the life and work of an esteemed director without regard to factual accuracy, all in an attempt to make this minor, ill-conceived drama seem important and noteworthy.

Instead, why not delve into some truly great works, such as Alfred Hitchcock films you may not have seen?

Hitchcock's films are of a nature that even his minor works are worthy of interest, and it perhaps goes without saying that something of note can be found in all of them. Even the likes of The Manxman or The Jamaica Inn have elements worth exploring, let alone finding enjoyable moments in some of his later, troublesome works like Frenzy.

I'm also making a broad assumption that everyone reading this should consider the top tier 50s/early 60s productions as mandatory viewing. Basically, if you haven't watched The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, or North by Northwest, stop reading this paragraph right now and get on it!

So, without further admonition, here are five films you should add to your list that you may not have seen before, or perhaps haven't watched in far too long.



hitch-rope.jpgRope (1948)
Like Dial M for Murder (a film I wrote a longer piece about) and Lifeboat, Rope is best remembered for its setting and technical considerations rather than its quality as a film. While Hitch himself was ambivalent about the film, this "all in one take"-looking work is actually a lot of fun.

Arthur (writer of West Side Story) Laurents and Hume (Shadow of a Doubt) Cronyn adapted the original play, along with an uncredited Ben Hecht, and the script sizzles. It's a wonderfully dark tale, taking the kind of off-the-cuff philosophizing about morality to some of its more macabre conclusions.

Getting beyond the epic long takes, there are great moments of character interaction. Most notably, for something based on a theater piece and shot with this style of what appears at first glance to be 'cut-less' filmmaking, the film manages to remain eminently cinematic and not 'stagey.'

With Hitchcock the camera often literally becomes one of the characters of his works, probing the scene, seeking out information, acting with the same kind of deliberation that the human actors appear to be doing and making the audience almost culpable in the telling of the story. More than almost any other of his works, Rope demonstrates this uniquely cinematic technique, exhibiting the roving camera and its role as a central character beautifully.
 

hitch-shadow_of_a_doubt.jpgShadow of a Doubt (1943)
You can practically see on screen with this film where Alfred Hitchcock emerges as one of the most powerful American filmmakers of all time, no small feat for this extremely British ex-pat. With a script by the likes of Thornton Wilder, we get a chilling take on middle America, with all its pedestrian and suburban trappings. Joseph Cotten was never better, no small feat for the man who had done both Citizen Kane and Magnificent Ambersons in the two years prior.

Shadow of a Doubt shows the weird, claustrophobic nature of small town USA in a way that telegraphs what the likes of David Lynch would be doing decades later. There are echoes to this film in the like of Night of the Hunter or perhaps Cape Fear (both the original and Scorsese's fine remake), except in some ways Hitch's film is even darker, its morality even more circumspect.



hitch-foreign_correspondent.jpgForeign Correspondent (1940)
Here's a film that rarely shows up on the great director's list of finest works, but there's something truly excellent about this tale of subterfuge and intrigue.

It joins that pantheon of Hitch films where a conflict occurs at some grand location, be it the nostrils of dead presidents in North by Northwest, to the Statue of Liberty scenes in the excellent Saboteur; this time we've got a fracas set in a Cathedral.

Foreign Correspondent has rain soaked chases, pithy and sarcastic dialogue and Nazis as bad guys - what's not to love!





hitch-trouble_with_harry2.jpgThe Trouble With Harry (1955)
Smack dab in the middle of the greatest period of Hitchcock's career comes this weird little film, an all-out black comedy starring soon-to-be icons Shirley MacLaine and Jerry (Leave it to Beaver) Mathers in their first roles.

The film is delightfully libidinous, and the fact that the so-called "Master of Suspense" would essentially do what Weekend At Bernies would attempt decades later is a treat for any of those used to his more austere works. The film's poster exclaimed that this was something "unexpected" from Hitch, and was indeed reflective of his desire to try something new.

Some of the humour of the film is of course mildly dated, but its daring for the time should not be forgotten. The film also represents the first collaboration with Bernard Herrmann, a pairing that would forever change the sound of cinema 


hitch-notorious.jpgNotorious (1946)
Notorious is one of Hitch's finest films, and one that unfortunately a lot of modern audiences may have inadvertently skipped in favour of some of the more "Hitchcockian" later works.

Strictly on visual terms, it's a stunning work, the black and white photography particularly radiant. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the stars of the film, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, have movie-star good looks that practically erupt off the screen.

With a script by Ben Hecht that nicely embodies classic Hollywood style, Hitch still manages to bring his own unique take on this type of glossy filmmaking, crafting some truly memorable visual moments. The effete performance by Claude Rains is a sheer joy, and the way that the story unfolds with such elegance is a pleasure to behold.

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Sticking to only five, and even forgoing the likes of the 50s key period, I'm bound to leave off some masterpieces. Rebecca is an astonishing film, incredibly beautiful and stark. Like Notorious, the film was released with fine supplemental materials on DVD by Criterion, and I continue to hope that a Blu-ray release is forthcoming, the way they've done with 39 Steps, Lady Vanishes, etc. For that matter, given that Foreign Correspondent is near impossible to find in a decent form, I'll hereby request that film be given a fair shot as well!

I find pleasure in some of the later films like Topaz or even Torn Curtain, and Family Plot is interesting for those delving into the end of the man's career. I've skipped with this list over dozens of films he made in England, including a bunch of silents, and haven't even discussed the two Man Who Knew Too Much films.

Still, this could easily just turn into a list of all his films, and that would kind of miss the point. You've got dozens and dozens of films worth seeing, but these should provide a nice starting point for those first coming to these works.

For now, dig into the many pleasures of Hitchcock's works beyond the obvious charms of Psycho North by Northwest Rear Window and revel in the works of this master, for he was not just the "master of suspense," but an astonishingly accomplished filmmaker of a wide variety of styles and genres, the likes of which may never be seen again.
Around the Internet:
  • Basileus

    Frenzy is better than all of them

  • Excellent choice of an article bump... And, yeah, FRENZY is only awesome in how terrible it is in parts.

  • blubronte

    great article...but you know there already is a nice blu-ray of Rebecca available, right? No Criterion supplements yes, but you still have those on the DVD and the HD transfer is worth it!

  • Yes, it's on Blu, but (as you suggested) I'm sitting here waiting/hoping that Criterion gets to release it so that I can retire my DVD copy from them.

  • blubronte

    fair enough, but you're missing out on the glory of Rebecca's cinematography in HD and the disc has it's own supplements that are pretty good as well. So you'll have a mountain of Rebecca features with no duplicates. Just think of the possibilities! Plus, Fox holds the rights now and not a crumbling MGM. So don't hold your breath. Just live the dream right now and shove the disc into the Criterion box if you're worried about shelf space.

  • Completely on your side here (I was kind of hoping for a set of the Fox discs before picking them up), but still dream of Criterion being home to those titles once again.

  • Mr. Cavin

    It's nice to see Foreign Correspondent getting a little love.

  • sezzzz

    If it's worse than Topaz then it really is going to be a stinker

  • I think I like TOPAZ more than FRENZY, but that's a much longer conversation... But TOPAZ is a goddamn masterpiece compared to HITCHCOCK (yeah, it's that bad...)

  • zey

    Already seen 'em, looking forward to "Hitchcock".

  • Good luck with that... :)

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