Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense


Alfred Hitchcock’s movies are all relatively similar.  There’s not much of a difference between "Strangers on a Train" (1951) and "Rebecca" (1940), is there? So I would write them in a brief overview, an outline, which you can trace further.  Also, try looking for Hitchcock’s random cameos. It is part of the fun of watching his movies.
Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense.
Hitchcock started out in the United Kingdom, a place of mystical air. He used quite a number of locations there for filming, like in "The Pleasure Garden" (1925). He then directed "Blackmail" (1927), with Anny Ondra as Alice White, the girlfriend of a master detective named Frank Webber.

During the 1930s, his films developed a more imagination and make-belief aura. In "The Lady Vanishes" (1939), Margaret Lockwood stars as Iris, a playgirl travelling in continental Europe. Who would have suspected Dame May Whitty’s Miss Froy would disappear and who would have suspected conspiracy? I would have searched the train instead.

Anyways, it is a half-comedy, so you can skip the suspense if you want. The rest of the films he made at this time were "Sabotage" (1936), "The 39 Steps" (1935), "Secret Agent" (1936), "East Of Shanghai" (1931) and "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934).

Later, the Americans snatched him for American studios. "Rebecca" (1940) was his first film there. Laurence Olivier plays Maxim de Winter, while Joan Foantine plays the nameless new Mrs de Winter who said, “When I searched the dictionary for Companion, it said ‘Friend of a bosom’.” That quote is excellent one, and you enter a girl’s mystical wonderland.... 

Here are some of Hitchcock’s best films among his long filmography.  They are ranked in  alphabetical order:

DIAL M FOR MURDER (COLOUR, 1952)


From left: John Williams, Grace Kelly & 
Ray Milland in Dial M for Murder 
All it takes is Ray Milland as an ex-tennis pro, Grace Kelly as his wife Margot and Robert Cummings as her lover to whip up a murder attempt story. John Williams’ Inspector Hubbard comes in much later, and Anthony Dawson’s Swann aka Captain Lesgate is dead before the unnecessary interval.



THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (COLOUR, 1956)

Dr Benjamin McKenna (Stewart) and his wife
Jo Conway (Day) were worried sick when
they discovered their son had been kidnapped. 
Hitchcock made a similar film of the same name in 1934, but now he decided to direct it again. This time shooting in colour, he used the same old plot. The plot takes place in Morocco, when a doctor, Benjamin (James Stewart), and his wife (Doris Day) meet a man on a bus, they get suspicious. After he is killed and their son kidnapped, the plot begins to unravel.  Doris Day's song Que Sera Sera was made famous through this movie.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (COLOUR, 1959) 

Cary Grant running from 
a crop-duster plane
This should be a child’s introduction to Hitchcock, since it asks viewers a deep question: Does being someone bad make you good? It’s a moral question, and Roger O. Thornhill is played by the aging Cary Grant (running from a crop-dusting plane, driving a car when drunk) and becomes a good guy. Who is the bad guy, then? It is played by James Manson, whose character’s name is Phillip Vandamm. And then there is Eve Kendall, two-timing as Eve Kendall, a femme fatale type character torn over the two male leads and her job (as a White House spy).


NOTORIOUS (BLACK AND WHITE, 1946)

Claude Rains and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious
Set in the Brazilian capital, Rio de Janeiro, this film is more of a drama than a mystery. It is not even a mystery at all, but the way it thrills the viewer is really unique. Ingrid Bergman is Alicia Huberman, and asked by Devlin (Cary Grant) to spy on a ring of Nazis led by Claude Rains’ Alexander Sebastian. Then there is Louis Calhern as Captain Paul Prescott. But then the title makes not much sense, and, like Dial M for Murder, focuses on a really special key.


See the horror section of this blog.


REAR WINDOW (COLOUR, 1954)

James Stewart in the movie
James Stewart stars as the handicapped Jefferies, a photographer, and Grace Kelly as that girl, Lisa Carol Fremont. Plus the mystery – a murder in the window next door. The rest of the windows, amazingly, share different stories within each view. That includes Judith Evelyn as Miss Lonely-hearts “juggling wolves”, Ross Bagdasarian as the songwriter, Georgina Darcy as Miss Torso, Jesslyn Fax as Miss Hearing Aid and Rand Harper and Havis Davenport as two newlyweds. In addition, there is Wendell Corey as a detective on the case and the amazing Thelma Ritter as Stella, Jefferies’ nurse.


REBECCA (BLACK AND WHITE, 1940)

Laurence Olivier and Joan Foantine   
The only Alfred Hitchcock film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It certainly deserves it. Laurence Olivier plays Maxim de Winter, the ex-husband of the title character. Another character appears, Joan Foantine, as, a nameless woman, just like in the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name. She becomes Olivier’s new wife, and then goes to Maxim’s mansion. Judith Anderson plays a female servant and Jack Favell, Rebecca’s cousin, is played wonderfully by on-screen (and off-screen) cynic George Sanders. Then follows a courtroom case – “I don’t want to go to no asylum”, shouted one character – and then the secret is revealed. A terrible one I did not believe. But if you have read the novel, it is no mystery. It might be more of a romance film. 


ROPE (COLOUR, 1948)

Farley Granger, James Stewart and John Dall 
This is a family relationship movie for older kids. Rupert Cadell is played by James Stewart, the main character of this adaptation from the highly-successful play. He was invited to a party hosted by John Dall as Brandon and Farley Granger as Phillip. The casts are: Dick Hogan as the victim of Brandon and Phillip’s murder, Joan Chandler as Janet, his girl, Douglas Dick as his rival, and Cedric Hardwicke and Constance Collier as his parents. If kids notice that this movie is seemingly done in one take, there are bonus points.


SHADOW OF A DOUBT (BLACK AND WHITE, 1941)   


Joseph Cotton as Charlie Oakley 
This was Hitchcock’s favourite movie, and there is no doubt why. It is based on a true story, but really, it acts like a play. Joseph Cotton stars as Charlie Oakley, also known as Spencer, and his character hangs there till he drops when one of his nieces (Teresa Wright) finds out his terrible secret. The secret is a crime, and then there are two spies following him, who later go into the house disguised as photographers. Charlie’s charm cannot be duplicated by any other actor besides Joseph Cotton.


STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (BLACK AND WHITE, 1951)

Farley Granger and Robert Walker 
Farley Granger as a boring, dull and handsome good guy, stuck in a marriage with Miriam Joyce Haines (played by Laura Elliot), but in love with a senator’s daughter. Into his life comes the George Sanders-like cynic/psycho who is a scary, spooky man. He is Robert Walker, some sort guy who is interested in murders and makes a proposal which is pretty smart (or pretty risky), where you will exchange murders and murderers. Pretty amazing, too, and wonderfully suspenseful broken down by even more suspenseful tennis matches.


TO CATCH A THIEF (COLOUR, 1955)


Cary Grant and Grace Kelly 
Shot beautifully on location in the south coast of France, this mystery is probably a little bit too gentle. There isn’t a ruthless psych like Tom Helmore as Gavin Elster in Vertigo or Norman Bates played by Anthony Perkins in Psycho. But then there is aging Cary Grant in the movie as an ex-jewel thief who has struck again – or hasn’t he? It was shot in Cinemascope frames and there is the beautiful Grace Kelly. Jesse Royce Landis plays her mother, who owns a lot of jewellery. There are hints of seduction between the two leads.


VERTIGO (COLOUR, 1958)


James Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo 
James Stewart – again – as a detective this time, John Ferguson, known to some as Scottie. There are two of his college friends – Midge Wood (Barbara Del Geddes), of whom he once was engaged to, and Tom Helmore’s Gavin Elster, the "psycho" of the film who asks Ferguson to spy on his wife Madeline. Ferguson finds that Madeline frequently visits a graveyard and stands in front of a tombstone. Then she goes to a museum, and stares at one particular painting. Then she contemplates suicide. But Ferguson saves her, and they fall in love, but she later falls off a clock tower to her death. Was it suicide? Maybe. Murder? Maybe. Or was it an accident? Later, Ferguson meets Judy Barton (Kim Novak) and makes her look like Madeline (he loves her, you see). But then she falls to her death. This is probably the best James Stewart and Hitchcock pairing.

For further study, look out for: "Marnie" (1964, Sean Connery confronting a woman’s mental problems), "The Trouble with Harry" (1955, Harry’s dead, but what to do about his corpse?), "The Wrong Man" (1956, Henry Fonda being the wrong man), "Spellbound" (1945, amnesia-suffering Gregory Peck accused of murder), "The Lady Vanishes" (1939, Dame May Whitty vanishing from Margaret Lockwood) or any Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode you can find. Click here for his full filmography.                                       

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