Saturday, August 11, 2012

My Favorite Hitchcock

To say we were surprised that Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo topped the list on the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound decennial poll of the greatest films would be an understatement. Critics and directors are not typical moviegoers – obvious by some of the films on the list including Man with a Movie Camera (1929), La Jetee (1962) and Au hasard Balthazar (1966).

We certainly consider Vertigo (1958) to be an excellent film. But not only isn’t it the greatest movie ever made, it’s not even Hitchcock’s best.

While we’ll leave the debate on the greatest films ever made for another day, here are what we consider to be Hitchcock’s best films.

The Birds (1963)

By Steve Herte

Of the seven Alfred Hitchcock films I can recall having seen thus far, The Birds is my favorite because it is the most memorable for me. I saw it when it was on the big screen. The Catholic “Legion of Decency” made it more attractive by giving it a lower rating (it had the words “damn” and “hell” in it and was particularly graphic with gore). And by then I had seen Vertigo and Psycho also on the big screen and I was hooked on Hitchcock.

My three favorite scenes in The Birds are:

1. Early in the film when occasional bird strikes create a Rube Goldberg chain reaction that ends with a cigarette-smoker tossing a match (even though several people are screaming that he shouldn’t) and blowing up a gas station and several cars.

2. When Jessica Tandy as Lydia Brenner finds the body of her neighbor with the eyes pecked out and the camera zooms in twice on the twin pools of blood, (it gave me chills, especially with all the girls in the theater screaming).

3. The last scene where all the attacks and action just stops for no reason at all (just as it started) and the birds begrudgingly let Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren slowly leave Bodega Bay in their car.

I had heard that Hitchcock loved blondes because blood shows up better on them. It worked on Tippi. This was one of the first movies I saw that made me “read the book” – this one by Daphne DuMaurier – which, I was surprised, also gave no rhyme or reason for the birds’ sudden attacks, only hints. When the main characters are holed up in the beach house the book hints about “the larger birds” and I was thinking eagles and condors. I always theorized that it was because of the two caged lovebirds at the beginning, that and the “I can get anything I want” attitude in Tippi’s jet-setting character.

Later on, I saw the remaining four movies in my memory, MarnieThe Man Who Knew Too MuchRear Window, and To Catch a Thief, and continued to enjoy them and in each to try finding the great Mr. Hitchcock in his cameo appearances.

 Marnie (1964) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

By Ed Garea

The problem with choosing a favorite Hitchcock movie is limiting oneself to only one favorite. There are so many I could just sit down and watch again . . . and again . . . and again. However, there are two that stand out, and which I don’t feel get their share of credit. One is Marnie, an offbeat (even for Hitchcock) film about a kleptomaniac, played by Tippi Hedren.

The other is Shadow of a Doubt, a film that is one of Hitchcock’s darkest. Made in 1943, when the war dictated that films should be optimistic, this is one of Hitchcock’s most penetrating looks into the nature of evil and how it can suddenly come to a community where everything was wonderful and serene.

Kindly Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) is coming to visit. The anticipation is greatest with young Charlie (Teresa Wright), who was named after her favorite uncle. But as we know, Uncle Charlie is anything but kindly. In fact, he is a serial murderer, known as “The Merry Widow Killer” for having knocked off a succession of women for their money. The dawning realization by young Charlie that her uncle is a murderer is Hitchcock at his absolute best. Add Hume Cronyn, in his film debut as a nosy pulp-story fan, and a script by Thornton Wilder, and it becomes a film that can be repeatedly enjoyed without ever losing its punch. 

Psycho (1960)

By David Skolnick

Psycho is the only other Hitchcock movie on the Sight & Sound Top 50 list, tied for 35th place with three other films, including Fritz Lang’s brilliant 1927 film, Metropolis. The graphic violence and sexual content in Psycho are firsts for him, taking full advantage of the demise of the Hays Code restrictions.

If there is a movie moment that better captures the combination of sex and violence than the shower scene in Psycho, please point it out to me. It is one of the most famous scenes in cinema history and deserves the praise it receives. Leigh’s scream and look of pure terror, the shadow-like “mother” figure, the close-up image of the knife and the sound of it plunging into the body, the shower curtain coming down and the blood swirling as it goes down the drain is perfect and scares the hell out of those watching it. It was incredibly bold for Hitchcock to kill the female lead so early in the film, but it allows other aspects of the film to play out.

Anthony Perkins is not a personal favorite, but he gives the performance of his life – and was forever typecast as Norman Bates – with Hitchcock allowing the actor to explore the multiple dimensions of the character.

Vertigo is an outstanding film, but not only isn’t it my favorite Hitchcock movie, it’s not my favorite Hitchcock film starring James Stewart. That would be Rear Window, the 1954 film co-starring Grace Kelly.

How great was Hitchcock? An indication is there are a number of his films I find to be superior to Vertigo, including Shadow of a Doubt (1943), North by Northwest (1959), and The Paradine Case (1947).

Do you have a favorite Hitchcock movie? Write us at or comment on this post and tell us what it is. We'd like to do a readers’ poll on their favorites to be published on this site.

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