115 YEARS OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK.

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

 

Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13th, 1899. I thought this anniversary was reason enough to gather up most of the stuff I’ve written about his movies and post it all here. 

 

Always make the audience suffer as much as possible. Alfred Hitchcock by Luc Fournol.

 

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most important directors in the history of world cinema, if not the single most important. He made nearly sixty movies in his career, most of them rightly regarded as classics and all of them sterling examples of craft. Watch Hitchcock’s films closely and learn; it’s as simple as that. Notice how durable so many of them are; allow for some period details such as vernacular and costuming and otherwise revel in how watchable these films remain. Consider seriously and admire the many filmmaking challenges Hitchcock set for himself — in LIFEBOAT, setting an entire film inside a lifeboat adrift at sea where the camera’s orientation never left the boat [save for one solitary shot]; in ROPE, setting a film in one location, taking place in real time, shooting in less than a dozen long takes; in REAR WINDOW, setting the entire film in one apartment, where the main character solves a murder in a nearby building yet never leaves the location. These are some of the more extreme examples: Hitchcock was constantly exploring the possibilities of the medium of film and challenging his audience while at the same time, delivering to that audience supreme entertainments which manipulated their emotions and reactions masterfully.

 

Hitchcock was a showman as much as a craftsman — his fun director cameos in his features, his droll introductions to his TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and his iconic profile all combined to make Hitchcock as famous as his films. At the height of his powers, he had the ability to remake one of his own films (THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) and to control the very conditions under which his landmark 1960 horror film PSYCHO was released and shown. He worked with many of the biggest and best stars of the studio era and made several of his own. He released some of the most mainstream and thrillingly fun movies of all time (i.e. NORTH BY NORTHWEST) and some of the most esoteric (i.e. TORN CURTAIN).

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s career, taken as a whole, virtually spans the first century of the art form — his first directing job was in 1922 and his last, in 1976. His professional acquaintances ran from F.W. Murnau to Bruce Dern, from German expressionism to the “New” Hollywood, from the silent era to the dawn of the blockbuster. Decades after his death, Hitchcock’s work is lionized and pored over by any currently working director worth a damn.

 

Probably the coolest recent tribute to Hitchcock’s immortal work and lasting influence was Steven Soderbergh’s recently-released project, editing together Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot revisionist remake from 1998. CHECK IT OUT HERE! (And if you have twenty minutes to spare, ask me why I call Van Sant’s version “revisionist.”)

 

Below is a gallery of poster art from Hitchcock’s most famous films. Where applicable, I’ve included my own paltry write-ups on each.

 

@JONNYABOMB

 

 

HITCHCOCK

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THE LODGER (1927)

THE LODGER (1927)

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THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934)

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934)

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THE 39 STEPS (1935)

THE 39 STEPS (1935)

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THE LADY VANISHES (1938)

THE LADY VANISHES (1938)

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JAMAICA INN (1939)

JAMAICA INN (1939)

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REBECCA (1940)

REBECCA (1940)

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FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1941)

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940)

This 1940 spy thriller, starring Joel McCrea and George Sanders, came closer to the beginning of Hitchcock’s filmography — it was his second American film, coming right after 1940′s REBECCA, a financial success and the Academy’s choice for Best Picture that year. FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT was nominated for the same award, which tells you plenty about both Hitchcock’s remarkable ability and about the studio system model back then. Now, I’ve seen thirty of Hitchcock’s movies — I counted! — but this is not one of them. This new Criterion edition gives me the perfect opportunity to remedy that.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940)_________________________

MR. & MRS. SMITH (1941)

MR. & MRS. SMITH (1941)

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SABOTEUR (1942)

SABOTEUR (1942)

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SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)

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LIFEBOAT (1944)

LIFEBOAT (1944)

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SPELLBOUND (1945)

SPELLBOUND (1945)

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NOTORIOUS (1946)

NOTORIOUS (1946)

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THE PARADINE CASE (1947)

THE PARADINE CASE (1947)

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ROPE (1948)

ROPE (1948)

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UNDER CAPRICORN (1949)

UNDER CAPRICORN (1949) 

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STAGE FRIGHT (1950)

STAGE FRIGHT (1950)

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The Wrong Man (1956)

THE WRONG MAN (1950)

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STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)

 

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I CONFESS (1953)

I CONFESS (1953)

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DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)

DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)

 

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REAR WINDOW (1954)

REAR WINDOW (1954)

 

One of Hitchcock’s many masterpieces,  REAR WINDOW is a flawless genre exercise in which nearly all of the camera set-ups are all rooted in one location. (If memory serves, there is a single shot from the ground of an apartment courtyard, but that’s the only one.) Jimmy Stewart plays a professional photography who’s laid up at his place with a broken leg. As he’s using his binoculars to peer in on the lives of his neighbors, he begins to suspect that one of them (played by Raymond Burr) has committed a murder. Grace Kelly (speaking of flawless) plays his girlfriend and fellow amateur investigator, the great Thelma Ritter plays his nurse, and Wendell Corey is his police detective friend, who’s skeptical of the whole theory. The cinematographer was Robert Burks, a Hitchcock regular.  It’s uncanny how much character development, story, and tension the film conveys from a situation that would be totally a-cinematic in other hands. Stewart and Kelly construct entire personalities and storylines for the neighbors whose lives they only see in glimpses, through apartment windows. We get to know Burr’s suspect long before he is ever seen up close, or even heard. And again, Hitchcock’s camera does not leave Stewart’s apartment for 99.9% of the film — in a very real way, Stewart’s character is a surrogate for the audience. Hitchcock loved to implicate the audience in his tales of suspense; here he finds the perfect storytelling metaphor to explore the theme of spectator voyeurism and complicity. To watch REAR WINDOW is to be swept up in the efficiency of the scriptwriting, the intoxicating performances (particularly Grace Kelly’s), and the elegance of the filmmaking — it’s very easy to miss the fact that Hitchcock is totally taking the piss.

REAR WINDOW (1954)

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TO CATCH A THIEF (1955)

TO CATCH A THIEF (1955)

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THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956)

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956)

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THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1956)

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1956)

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NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

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VERTIGO (1958)

VERTIGO (1958)

In the popular imagination, Jimmy Stewart is the all-American stand-up guy, the Capra-esque idealist of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, the redeemed phoenix of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Many modern-day filmgoers would probably surprised to watch the movies Stewart made with Anthony Mann (mostly Westerns, but ones more violent, angry, and morally ambiguous than most, i.e. THE NAKED SPUR) and Alfred Hitchcock (four in all). In ROPE, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and REAR WINDOW, Stewart plays characters who are basically decent, but navigating murky worlds of murder and intrigue. But in VERTIGO, as in the Mann Westerns, Stewart’s persona was turned on its ear. This is not a redemptive story. Stewart plays a detective whose extreme fear of heights leads him to leave the force, at which point he picks up an informal case and becomes obsessed with the object of investigation, embodied by Kim Novak in what turns out to be a dual role. Or is it? Hitchcock’s visualization of both the titular condition and obsessive behavior borders on the surreal; this is arguably his most psychologically complex film, and many argue, his single best. Because Hitchcock very clearly had a thing for beautiful blondes, many critics interpret VERTIGO to be a personal film for Hitchcock — it certainly hearkens back to the recurring themes of voyeurism and identity that pervade his work. I’m not a renowned scholar and I could be very wrong, but I don’t see Hitchcock as a filmmaker who put too much of himself into his work. If VERTIGO touches on any personal obsessions, I feel like Hitchcock would have been detached enough to realize it and then use it for storytelling purposes. The through line of his artistic career was his remarkable ability to orchestrate audience reactions using the very visceral genre of suspense thrillers. It wouldn’t fit with his M.O. to turn that scrutiny back on himself. He was a showman, not a soul-searcher. Regardless, VERTIGO is far more dense than many of his best-known films; it isn’t a lark, like TO CATCH A THIEF or NORTH BY NORTHWEST. It is absolutely one of his most visually striking films. Working again with the aforementioned Robert Burks,VERTIGO uses its San Francisco locations, a stark color palette, and dizzying camera movements, to make the viewer feel as delirious as the Jimmy Stewart character. If you’re just starting to get into Hitchcock’s films, VERTIGO is not the place to start. You kind of need to build up to it. But it’s well worth putting in the work.

 VERTIGO (1958)

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PSYCHO (1960)

PSYCHO (1960)

Entire books have been written about the genesis, the making, and the impact of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. There will probably be more. It’s a movie that does so many amazing things – turning an oft-told real-life account into the most iconic cinema, switching protagonists halfway through the movie, convincing audiences to (temporarily) side with the villain, and serving as the primary genesis moment of every slasher movie to come. And of course, there’s the Bernard Herrmann score, forever etched in our collective cultural memory, yet just one more perfectly-rendered element of this flawless movie. Once you clear away all of the backstory and the accolades and the countless cultural references, this movie still has the power to unsettle you, to haunt you.

 PSYCHO (1960)

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THE BIRDS (1963)

THE BIRDS (1963)

The closest to a monster movie Hitchcock ever made, THE BIRDS is typically atypical. Off-hand I can’t think of any films the master director crafted that didn’t feature human beings as the main antagonists. I guess LIFEBOAT is a bit of a man-against-the-elements story, but it’s really more a story about human conflict than a man-versus-nature survival drama. THE BIRDS truly is a movie about a small California town being swarmed by birds. I’ve mentioned elsewhere how Hitchcock liked to set filmmaking challenges for himself. Well, it’s pretty tough to make birds scary, but Hitchcock does his damnedest. There are several enduringly creepy shots and sequences throughout the film, although again it’s a lot easier to make a great white shark a menacing obstacle than a cockatoo or a chickadee. More common to Hitchcock’s oevre is the presence of a pretty blond at the center of the storm, in this case Tippi Hedren. Intriguingly, THE BIRDS makes literal all the avian imagery that proliferates throughout his earlier horror success, 1960′s PSYCHO. (Remember how Norman Bates has a thing for decorating his office with taxidermied birds? And that his famous victim is named Marion Crane?) THE BIRDS is admittedly less terrifying than that one, but it surely has its moments.

 THE BIRDS (1963)

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MARNIE (1964)

MARNIE (1964)

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TORN CURTAIN (1966)

TORN CURTAIN (1966)

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TOPAZ (1969)

TOPAZ (1969)

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FRENZY (1972)

FRENZY (1972)

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FAMILY PLOT (1976)

FAMILY PLOT (1976)

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Alfred Hitchcock

 

 

Alfred Hitchcock during the 1963 Cannes Film Festival by Francois Gragnon.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments
  1. Steph says:

    Thanks for that tribute to Hitchcock. I have seen many of the films but there are many I have not seen and a few I had no idea he directed like Mr. and Mrs Smith.

    FYI Foreign Correspondent airs tonight on TCM I am watching as I have never seen that one. I also plan to see a few more.

    Also please tell me what you mean by revisionist. I refer to that “remake” as never should have been made. Dreadful cast and just completely unnecessary.

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