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.)