Preface: I’m not just a movie buff, I’m a pretentious movie buff. Not only do I passionately look forward to the new movies coming out (this weekend, Super 8, mark your calendars), but I watch older movies with great interest. Watching old movies led me to a great interest in a certain filmmaker named Alfred Hitchcock. My parents showed me some of his tamer movies when I was younger and as my interest in movies grew, I started to watch some of his other work. Over time, I got to the point where Hitchcock became my favorite director. The more I read about him, the more of his movies I took in, the more fascinated I became with him. I also found out that he was a sick son of a bitch, but more on that later.
Disclaimer: This post might bore some people because the movies I’m talking about today were made before 1970, and as such, don’t exist to our generation. But hey, it’s my blog, so there.
#7 – Rebecca (1940)
A naive young woman has a whirlwind romance with a rich widower, marries him and moves into his mansion, only to find herself haunted (not like a ghost, mentally haunted) by her new husbands deceased wife.
Rebecca was Hitchcock’s only movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture and also the only nomination he received for Best Director. This film wasn’t really a game-changer or genre-definer like a number of his other movies were, but it had something that many of his other movies lacked: subtlety. The characters are extremely well defined and expertly acted at a time when nuance was uncommon in film acting. The gothic architecture of the home that most of the film takes place in builds amazing atmosphere and really creates a subtly intimidating environment for the female lead. I actually thought they filmed the movie at a mansion somewhere, but when I looked it up, it turns out they filmed the whole thing in a studio in LA. They used a combination of miniatures and some expertly constructed sets to create the mansion. The fact that I couldn’t see through how they staged the movie speaks volumes to the technical mastery of a film created when color wasn’t even the standard in Hollywood yet.
#6 – Vertigo (1958)
One of the four Hitchcock movies that Jimmy Stewart starred in, this is one of the first psychological thrillers ever made, and honestly made me question my own sanity a couple of times. I won’t go into the plot details for sake of not spoiling anything, but suffice it to say that Hitch defined a genre with this one. Not only that, but he actually invented the “contra-zoom” or “dolly-zoom”, wherein the camera appears to zoom in on the character in front of the camera but zooms out on the background. This was done to simulate a feeling of vertigo for the main character (hence the title). The plot twist in the movie is a bit of a stretch in suspension of disbelief, but everything else about the movie is so well done that I can easily forgive that.
#5 – The Trouble With Harry (1955)
This is a lesser-known flick and definitely not one of his best, but it really puts Hitchcock’s dark sense of humor on display. A local resident of a small town in Vermont named Harry (as you might guess from the title) shows up dead on a hillside one day. Shenanigans ensue. Most of the humor is tongue-in-cheek or macabre, so it’s definitely not for everybody, but I really enjoyed it.
#4 – Rope (1948)
I detailed this movie a bit in another post (Movies You’ve Never Heard of That You Really Should See). The long takes in this movie really create an interesting atmosphere that you don’t usually see in movies very often. It also led to an interesting incident on set. Since the takes were usually upwards of 7 or 8 minutes, there was a lot of planning and choreography that went into every take. So botching a take was no small matter. There was one point where a camera dolly ran over an off-camera crew member’s foot and broke it. Not wanting to ruin the take, a crew member next to him quickly gagged him to keep him from yelling in pain and dragged him away, thereby saving that take.
This movie also put on display a) how obsessed with sex Hitchcock was and b) how sneaky he was about it. The two main characters are college students who live together, and there are a number of hints that they were probably gay. In some cases it’s certain gestures and actions that could take on lewd connotations, in other cases it’s the way the characters interact. But it’s done with such subtlety that you almost might not pick up on it. This was done at a time when in many states it was still illegal to be gay, and there was no rating system for movies, just some extremely uptight CENSORS. So the fact that he was able to sneak it by them was quite brilliant.
#3 – Strangers On A Train (1951)
Two strangers meet on a train (as you might guess). As they talk to kill time, it somehow comes up that both of them have somebody in their life that they would like to dispose of. One of them says that they should each kill the person that the other needs to get rid of. “Criss-cross”. He thinks that that way there’s legally no motive for the murder, so he thinks it would be “the perfect crime”. They joke about it, but one man doesn’t take it seriously, while the other does. Shenanigans ensue.
In my opinion, this is one of Hitchcock’s most artistic movies. The camera angles used, the cinematic techniques, are all absolutely brilliant and masterfully create a sense of uneasiness. Keep an eye out for the tennis scene in particular, as well as the main murder scene. I don’t even hear that many Hitchcock fans talking about this movie, so it kinda flew under my radar for a while, but it really is worth checking out.
#2 – Rear Window (1954)
A very successful photographer (played by the always brilliant Jimmy Stewart) is stuck in his tiny apartment following an accident that broke his leg. To pass the time he takes up spying on his neighbors, and discovers something sinister is afoot (as is somewhat common in Hitchcock films).
Almost the entire movie is shot from inside the main characters cramped apartment, so rather than give the viewer omniscience, we learn about what’s going on as the movie progresses. Much of the tension comes from the fact that Jimmy Stewart doesn’t witness a murder and then need to convince everybody of what happened, but rather he sees some behavior that he THINKS indicates a murder, and then tries to figure out if he’s right. This creates a lingering sense of “Maybe he’s wrong”, and there were several times where I started to legitimately think that he was just imagining things.
#1 – Psycho (1960)
Easily Hitchcock’s most famous work, I could probably write an entire research paper on this movie. And probably would, given the opportunity. But I’ll just leave it at this: I love this movie, and you need to watch it. That is all.
Honorable Mentions: The Wrong Man (one of my favorite Henry Fonda films), The Birds (still has one of the best endings in cinema history and some amazing tension), Foreign Correspondent (one of the first political thrillers that defined the genre and featured a phenomenally staged plane crash in the ocean, which was way ahead of its time), and North by Northwest (in my opinion, Cary Grant’s best movie)
For Attebiz Movie Reviews, I’m the J-Man.