Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t the nicest man in the world. Some consider his films problematical for that reason. His artistic brilliance trumps his awful treatment of Tippi Hedren. He seems to have gotten creepier with age, alas.
I make no pretense of being an expert on Hitchcock’s personal life. It does not interest me. I wanted to get that out of the way. If I didn’t, someone would call me out for not doing so.
My focus is on Hitchcock’s brilliant body of work. Even his lesser films have moments of genius. This was a hard list to compile: there were at least 6 other strong contenders. In the end, I prefer his Hollywood work to his British films. It’s a matter of taste.
The Hitchcock Dozen is listed in order of preference and reflects my own personal taste. I’ve seen all the movies below at least 5 times. They’re all 4-star films.
Let’s get started.
Vertigo is not only Hitchcock’s greatest film, it’s his weirdest. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area so I love the street scenes. It’s cool to see Old SF before all the glass boxes popped up downtown.
I’m on the record as a Kim Novak fan. Her performance has been unfairly criticized by some including the director. Novak gave Hitchcock what he wanted and did it well.
The first time I saw Vertigo was in a theatre after it was reissued in 1985. I was blown away by its weird artistry.
Notorious is a close second to Vertigo. What’s not to love about a movie with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains? Ben Hecht’s script is tight and the MacGuffin is perhaps the best in any Hitchcock movie.
Claude Rains is one of the best Hitchcock villains because he’s so damn likable and so much shorter than Bergman. He was also a Nazi with mommy issues. So it goes.
Strangers On A Train: I may have seen this movie the most of any on the list. I never tire of Robert Walker’s performance as Bruno. He’s the psycho killer as rich spoiled brat. He’s my second favorite Hitchcock villain.
Every time I see Farley Granger’s name onscreen, I say “He might have been a bigger star if he’d changed his name.”
Farley is not a movie star name. So it goes.
I could go on and on about the brilliant set pieces in Strangers. The first two films listed were more cerebral, but neither was as action packed as Strangers.
Shadow Of A Doubt is Dr. A’s favorite Hitchcock movie. I had relatives in Santa Rosa so I dig seeing what it looked like in 1942. Joseph Cotten’s Uncle Charlie is my favorite Hitchcock villain. I’ll post a list of the best villains at the end of the post.
Shadow is an early example of the twinning that was central to Vertigo. Teresa Wright thinks she knows her uncle, but she does not.
The murder buff scenes between Hume Cronyn and Henry Travers are to die for. Pun intended. Others may think of Travers as Clarence the angel, to me he’ll always be Joe Newton, true crime buff and dim patriarch.
Rear Window: It’s a wonderful exercise in space containment as Stewart is trapped in his apartment. The supporting performances are what make it so great. Thelma Ritter is flawless and Raymond Burr is scary as hell as we see him do his thing in his pad across the way.
Psycho: Killing off your star that early in the movie was a ballsy move. I have a lifelong crush on Janet Leigh, so it gets me every time. That pipsqueak Norman Bates had a lot of nerve.
All of Bernard Hermann’s soundtracks for Hitchcock are brilliant. This may be the best of the bunch.
North By Northwest: Has a similar vibe to Strangers On A Train. It’s a road trip movie full of fabulous set pieces.
The cast is superb. James Mason is way up the list of Hitchcock villains. Eva Marie Saint was among the coolest cool blonds to be cast in a Hitchcock film.
The Birds: It’s again set in the SF Bay Area so I dig that aspect of the movie. The bird attacks are terrifying. I feel especially bad for Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette who is another Adrastos crush. The freaking birds should have left Emily Hartley alone.
Repeat after me: Damn those love birds.
Frenzy: Hitchcock’s return to London after 30 years in America was a triumph. The scenes in and around Covent Garden make me feel nostalgic for my time in London. I stayed not far from there.
Barry Foster is by far and away Hitch’s scariest villain. I tend to prefer the suave ones like Rains, Cotten, and Walker but he’s damn good. Foster also played Kaiser Bill in Fall Of Eagles.
The Lady Vanishes is the slickest and most professional of Hitchcock’s English films. Trains feature heavily in his movies. They’re an excellent venue for his twisted tales.
Foreign Correspondent is the first pure Hitchcock movie of his American period. Rebecca is outstanding but it’s a melodrama, this is a thrilling thriller with a thrilling ending. That’s a whole lotta thrills.
I have a soft spot for this movie because it has swell performances by two of my favorite actors, Joel McCrae and George Sanders
Spellbound: Hitchcock goes Freudian in this movie. I dig shrink flicks and Spellbound is one of the earliest examples. It wasn’t one of the director’s favorites but what’s not to love about a movie that Salvador Dali worked on? I love surrealist art, so how can I not love this movie? Questions are all I’ve got.
I like to dish out some lagniappe in my Sunday Dozens. This time, two sub-lists:
The Hitchcock Villain Half Dozen
- Joseph Cotten in Shadow Of A Doubt
- Robert Walker in Strangers On A Train
- Claude Rains in Notorious
- James Mason in North By Northwest
- Anthony Perkins in Psycho
- Ray Milland in Dial M For Murder
I told you last week how much I liked Ray Milland. His movie didn’t make the big list, but he made the sub-list.
The Hitchcock Cool Blond Half Dozen
- Ingrid Bergman in Notorious
- Grace Kelly in Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch A Thief
- Kim Novak in Vertigo
- Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest
- Janet Leigh in Psycho
- Joan Fontaine in Rebecca and Suspicion
That concludes the Alfred Hitchcock Dozen.
The last word goes to Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn in Shadow Of A Doubt: