Top 5 Thursday | Hitchcock Films

Apologies for the list being late and also for the brief write-ups. I’m too drained to write very much at the moment.

Like many others I am fascinated and captivated by the films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock…the first I ever saw was North by Northwest and I suppose the next one was Psycho when I was 13, which thoroughly disturbed me at that age (and still does now). It wasn’t until I was older that I began to fully immerse myself in his work and I’ve now seen about 33 of his feature films. I love his world full of romance and suspense and today, I bring you my top 5 Hitchcock films. It was a difficult task as I’ve enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen so far but I managed to pick 5 for the time being.

1. North by Northwest, 1959

This is a bit like Stanley Donen’s Charade for me (which I wrote about here) – it doesn’t matter how many times I watch it I still enjoy it and find it suspenseful, which doesn’t usually happen with this kind of film when it’s watched over and over. Though this is part of Hitchcock’s appeal for me as I find this to be the case with many (if not all) of his films. I suppose he isn’t called ‘The Master of Suspense’ for nothing, then. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to this film as I grew up watching it but it’s truly a great film with or without sentimental attachment. I love stories in which an ordinary person is put into an extraordinary situation, especially when they’re framed for something they didn’t do, and must go through all of these (often ridiculous) incidents before they can clear their name. It’s unbelievable, in some ways, but isn’t that what cinema is for? More than the suspense, though, it’s the humour of this film that I adore. Cary Grant has, as always, perfect comic timing and I’ve lost count of the amount of fabulously quotable lines that are from this film.

Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed.

And then, of course, there’s the romance and sexiness – the combination of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is nearly too much to handle at some points! Ha. Oh, this movie also has two of the greatest voices to ever make it in Hollywood: Cary Grant and James Mason.

2. Spellbound, 1945

Ingrid Bergman + Gregory Peck (swoon!) + a dream sequence designed by Dali (!!!) + psycho-analysis = Spellbound = amazing. Obviously when you’re talking about Hitchcock and dream sequences Vertigo comes to mind but I like this one, too, because it was designed by Dali.

What can I say about Spellbound? I find the incorporation of psychoanalysis (so much psychoanalysis in film noir and Hitchcock, really) intriguing, though I will admit to not necessarily knowing a whole lot about it. The use of visual triggers that disturb Gregory Peck’s character is really effective, too, and foreshadow the similar devices (though different triggers) used in Marnie nearly twenty years later. And I like films where women take the role of the detective, as it were, though it is almost always (at around this time, anyway) to clear a man’s name when he is in prison, either a physical one or a mental one such as Gregory Peck’s character in Spellbound.  Plus I’ve always admired Hitchcock’s use of camera angles, perspectives, etc., like at the end of this film with the gun! (If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean but I suppose I oughtn’t give anything away?)

3. Rear Window, 1954

The pacing of this film is perfect – the progression of voyeurism from innocent (well, as innocent as spying on one’s neighbours can be) pastime to obsession to something more sinister is filmed so well and acted wonderfully by James Stewart. It took me a long time to appreciate Grace Kelly – in fact, she usually still leaves me a bit cold – but I can’t imagine anyone else acting alongside Stewart in this film, now. The use of photographic equipment is interesting to me as well – I’m sure there is a lot to be said (and probably has been said) about using a telephoto lens to spy on his neighbours (framing them as he would a photograph? etc) but my brain cannot handle that, right now. But the contained set(s), the distancing of action by the viewer seeing only what Stewart’s character does, etc., is brilliant. And another one where the suspense doesn’t seem to dissipate on repeat viewing.

4. The Lady Vanishes, 1938

Ah, Hithcock and trains…one of the recurring motifs in his films and this is, I think, the longest use of a train (as most of the film takes place on one) of all Hitchcock’s work. This is one of Hitchcock’s earlier films, made in the UK, and it is very British (whatever that may mean) and somehow more benign than the others I’ve listed, I think. There is still suspense, mystery and even conspiracy yet it seems slightly more jolly? It’s a very charming film and Michael Redgrave is quite dashing with his moustache and bow-tie. And the leading lady, Margaret Lockwood is not a blonde! Gasp. I think it’s the only film on this list not to feature one of ‘Hitchcock’s blondes’ (though I suppose Ingrid Bergman is debatable in that respect?)

5. Notorious, 1946

I haven’t watched this film as many times as the others on this list, so I don’t remember it quite as well, but I feel like it is deserving of its place in my top 5 nonetheless. The (in)famous kiss scene between Bergman and Grant is steamy to say the least – to get around the censors/Hays Code that stated ‘Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.’, Hitchcock broke up the kissing scene so it seems that they are kissing for longer than they actually are. Very clever. And the story is just so great, isn’t it? Spies and semi-forbidden romances and what-not. And that’s not to say anything of Ingrid Bergman’s gorgeous wardrobe.

This list will probably change again, soon, when I watch a different Hitchcock film for the umpteenth time – maybe I’ll want to add in Strangers on a Train or Stage Fright or maybe even Rope because I love all of them nearly as much as I love the films I’ve chosen for this list. What about whoever might be reading – what are your favourite Hitchcock films? (Assuming, of course, you have favourites.)

Top 5 Thursday | All-time favourites.

One of the regular features I want to do here is a series of top 5 posts. I decided to start with my all-time favourite top 5 movies. This is a tricky feat, indeed, for someone who is easily pleased when it comes to cinema (I once posted a top 50 to my Tumblr and even that will be out of date, now).

For me, I define a favourite as a film I can watch over & over & over and not get sick of (however, there are some exceptions to this rule but none appear in my top 5) so my favourite films may not necessarily be indicative of all the sorts of films I will watch and enjoy/appreciate but that I can watch them so many times may be telling…of what, I’m not entirely sure. I suppose I can let you make your own minds up about that.

Note: I did mention in my introductory post that I want to start thinking more critically about the films I watch…but I found it was almost impossible to be objective about these films (not to say I discount valid criticisms but that I find it difficult to form them myself) because most of them have been in my life for such a long time, now. Maybe this is something I can address as this blog progresses but I guess what I’m trying to say is this is really just a gushing sort of a post.

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show directed by Jim Sharman, 1975

This is legitimately my all time  favourite movie. I doubt anything will ever change that as I’ve been watching and loving this film since I was about four or five years old. I have my older (by 14 years) sister to blame/thank for my love of this film – my mother was uncertain if it was ‘appropriate’ for a small child to watch; my sister told her that I just liked the songs and colours. I’m sure this was somewhat true as there were certain scenes that I definitely didn’t understand until I was much older! I do remember putting on my mother’s high heels and acting out the floorshow scene with my friends at least once. I still have the taped-from-TV VHS copy that I grew up with (it has episodes of Family Ties on the end as well as some great ’80s music videos.) Watching this film is like coming home, again, I think. I know every line by heart, I sing and dance along and I never tire of any of it. A girl in high school once told me she didn’t ‘get’ this film and I still don’t entirely know what she meant…I wonder if my years of watching it have clouded my judgement when it comes to whether or not other people will enjoy it. But what’s not to enjoy? It’s campy, kitschy, glittery, there are sexy singing aliens, death-rays, nods to B-movies of the 30s-50s and some of the best songs that have ever been written. Could one really ask for more?

[Tumblr posts tagged Rocky Horror Picture Show or RHPS.]

2. Grease directed by Randal Kleiser, 1978

Grease is another film that I’ve loved since I was a small child – and another one I acted out in the living room (this time with my BFF – our song is ‘We Go Together’ by the by). I wonder if I have Grease to thank for my interest in mid-century America & teen culture (despite its costumes, etc., not being entirely authentic but as a 5 year old I wasn’t quite so discerning about these things)…I once read a website about how American teenagers really dressed in the 1950s and the author of the site said how unrealistic Grease is in that respect – but it is a musical. I don’t usually look to musicals for historical accuracy but, even so, the costumes in Grease capture the essence of what is stereotypically 1950s. Even musicals made in the era in which they are set are exaggerated representations of the fashion, etc., and that’s what I love about them. Grease doesn’t quite fit into the hyperreality of other musicals that I love from the 40s and 50s but I think it’s a similar kind of idea. The world of musicals is another world entirely and why people can be so divided by them.

I wonder if the enduring popularity of Grease has anything to do with the tend toward nostalgia not just at present but maybe in general? That it highlights everything we may love about 1950s Americana/teen culture: the milkshakes, drive-ins, froofy dresses, school dances etc., whilst making invisible the nastier side of things, like racism and homophobia (neither of which, of course, are gone now) just as the tip of the iceberg. It does touch on how some girls were (and still are) ostracised and talked about because they may have gone ‘with a boy…or two’ and/or got pregnant (like Rizzo) and maybe it also touches a little on gang rivalry (Scorpions vs T-Birds) but with less violence…it may not quite be Happy Days but I think it still sugar coats a lot. Despite all of that I love this movie unabashedly (maybe I’m better at thinking critically about my favourites than I thought).

[Tumblr posts tagged Grease.]

3. Charade directed by Stanley Donen, 1963

Oh my…yet another film I’ve been watching since I was a little girl! My mother’s favourite actor is Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn is one of mine. Needless to say this is a favourite we both share (though my mother is, perhaps, less obsessed with the film than I am!) Even though films like this rely heavily on suspense (and therefore first viewing) I am enthralled by this film no matter how many times I watch it. I know exactly what is going to happen and be said, I know each twist (and boy, there are a lot of them!), I even know which piece of music is used when but I’m never bored. Both Hepburn and Grant exude charm and play off each other beautifully. Grant’s comic timing is, as always, spot on…one of the things I love about this is that Grant was meant to be the one chasing Hepburn’s character but they switched it around when he said he felt he was too old to be chasing after a woman so much younger than him. My mum told me this as she’d read it somewhere or other but this review says the same thing. I think it works so well with Grant’s character trying to resist Reggie’s (Hepburn) advances that I couldn’t imagine it any other way. This film has often been described as ‘the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made’ and I think that’s one of the most apt descriptions I’ve ever read of a film. Oh, it also has a fantastic theme tune (yay, Mancini!) with incredibly cool ’60s graphics.

[Tumblr posts tagged Charade.]

4. Laura directed by Otto Preminger, 1944

I bought this film on a whim as it was only $1…then I watched it about 7 times in one week! (I wish I’d bought lots more copies so I could give them to everyone as gifts and bestow the glory of this film upon each and every person I know.) This film borders on necrophilia, could be interpreted as becoming the dream of Dana Andrews’ character halfway through, and has the ‘evil homosexual’ character that is so prevalent in film noir (well, sometimes morally corrupt) in the form of Waldo Lydecker. The first two points may be unsettling/confusing but not necessarily bad points about the film…I’m more uncomfortable about the coded ways in which gay characters were represented as morally corrupt (of course it could never explicitly be said that a character was gay because of the Hayes Code) in this and other similar films. There are a lot of things to unpack there and I am a little wary of breezing over the topic like that but I’m trying to keep this brief! But Waldo Lydecker gets all the great lines in the film and I’m going to have to do a feature post on it just as an excuse to bombard you with his one-liners. And what else do I love about it? It’s dark and strange without being explicitly so, Laura is an intelligent career woman (who, admittedly, may have dubious taste in men), it flips over on itself somewhere in the middle and it has one of my favourite ever onscreen kisses. Laura and Mark are on equal footing and there’s none of that manhandling so prevalent in movies of this era (manhandling is all well and good but I get a little uncomfortable at the violence of them, I suppose.) I don’t want to give too much away because if you’re not spoiled for this film then I find it’s a lovely surprise. Oh, and it’s gorgeous to look at too and not just because of the babely actors but because of the photography, lighting, etc., and the costumes…Gene Tierney has some beautiful clothes.

[Tumblr posts tagged Laura.]

5. Velvet Goldmine directed by Todd Haynes, 1998

This film baffled me when I first saw it – I think I was thrown by the beginning…does it imply that Oscar Wilde is an alien? Now I don’t even care and I love it completely and wholeheartedly; I have a big space in my heart for glitter and glam rock and the pop culture of the 1970s and I adore the colours and costumes in this film. I was even more impressed by it when I finally watched Citizen Kane and everything I’d read about the parallels between the films fell into place. Scott Tobias, in 2009, wrote that “…the Citizen Kane structure is perhaps Velvet Goldmine‘s biggest masterstroke…by presenting Slade, like Kane, as a mystery to be solved (or not), Haynes can evoke the glam-rock movement without destroying the all-important mystique that sustains it.” To be honest, once I fell in love with film I stopped thinking about it…but reading some other reviews and articles on it whilst writing this, I think I would like to take the time to read and think a bit more about it. (Maybe another future feature post?!)

David Bowie apparently wasn’t keen on this film (nor was Roger Ebert but some other critics had kinder things to say about it). I love Bowie but I love this film just as much…so I guess Bowie and I will just have to agree to disagree when it comes to Velvet Goldmine.

[Tumblr posts tagged Velvet Goldmine.]

Of course, as these are my own personal favourites, there is no point debating the placement of any of these on my list (that’s how personal favourites work) but I’d love it if anyone would like to share their own top 5 favourite films with me! And if anyone has any ideas for top 5 lists for me, feel free to throw them my way.