Hitchcock is a rare breed of director and probably the most iconic of all time. He is one of the very few directors whose films are a genre unto themselves – you can watch a Hitchcock film in the same way you can watch a Gangster or Western flick. Add to that the fact he made over 50 films, ranging from the silent era to the 70s, and you have a man who can generate diverse views. Let’s check em out.
Tim from Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie writes:
I have never seen a Hitchcock film I did not like, and oftentimes I feel as though my favourite is the one I have seen most recently. That is sort of the case at the moment, as I loved Sabotage (1936) a British era adaptation of Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” and could easily write this piece on that.
However if I ponder a little more deeply on which is indeed my favourite, I come up with the same answer as Hitch himself did. My favourite Hitchcock film is Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the film Hitch always maintained was his favourite of those he made. Why is it my favourite Hitchcock film? It doesn’t have the sheer visceral exhileration of Psycho (1960), my first introduction to Hitchcock. Nor does it have the brilliant high concept conceit of Rear Window (1954) or one of the greatest scripts of all time like North by Northwest (1959). Despite not having any of these, for me the film eclipses them all.
Teresa Wright gets top billing over Joseph Cotten in the opening credits. Who deserves it? Hard to say as they are both fantastic, playing a namesake Uncle and Niece both called Charlie. Cotten’s character is a delicious one, he is delightfully evil. The audience knows it from the start but it takes a fair while to pin down exactly why. Cotten is having fun, playing Charlie with manipulative glee. His niece Charlie is a different kind of Hitchcock woman. She is whip smart and onto her uncle from the start. And lets just say that her actions at the end of the film don’t leave you thinking she belongs to the weaker sex (personally I think that much, not all, of the general thoughts on women in Hitchcock films as weak or failures is simplistic). Wright more than holds her own, easily accomplishing the difficult task of playing a believable teenager.
Many of Hitch’s films are urban set tales, but Shadow of a Doubt sees most of the action take place in small town America suburbia. It reminds me a lot of the setting of Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946) but perhaps more nuanced. And the setting allows Hitch to cultivate a great family dynamic with each of the family members being allowed to craft distinctive characters. In fact the film is full of perhaps the most beautifully crafted characters in Hitch’s canon who have the pleasure of enchanting the audience with perhaps the slickest dialogue in any of his films. The film also has a lot of nuance and rewards the viewer by slowly but surely revealing its psychological depth.
More than anything, the film just gets you in. I re-watched it late the other night while drinking a beer. For no reason at all at one point, I paused the film, hopped up and poured the rest of my beer into a glass. It just felt right. Upon restarting the film, I realised that a character onscreen was at that moment also pouring a beer into his glass. The film just sucks you in and makes you part of what is happening onscreen like only the very best of cinema. If you haven’t seen this somewhat lesser known Hitchcock film, then go out and track it down.
James from Film Blerg writes:
Having previously adapted Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1940) to triumphant acclaim, Alfred Hitchcock took on du Maurier’s 1953 short story The Birds (1963). Unlike the impressive Saul Bass designed openings seen in Psycho and Vertigo (1958), The Birds is much more understated. As the film opens, birds are heard fluttering back and forth. Already enough to send shivers down one’s spine, the birds then appear flying manically back and forth, forewarning of the terrors to come.
Having seen The Birds as an eight-year-old, I subsequently became anxious of overflying birds and their potential for ravenous depravity. Later screened in my first year cinema studies class at La Trobe University, the class continually laughed throughout the film’s entirety to my absolute and appalled shock. Susan Sontag wrote on the aesthetics of camp only a year after The Birds release, and much of the film’s retrospective humour can be derived from its references to camp.
Our lecturer Anna Dzenis warned us of the strange happenings that occur when she screened The Birds. True to her word, less than a week after the film was screened, I had an unfortunately incident with a bird on the golf course. It was true. When The Birds is screened, somewhere a bird will attack.
Hitchcock’s The Birds begins with prankster Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren). A young socialite coming from a wealthy and established family, Melanie is headstrong and intuitive. Upon meeting Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in San Francisco and sparking a playful conversation, Melanie secretly arrives in Bodega Bay where Mitch spends the weekend with his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and much younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). And then the birds attack…
Jessica Tandy is unsurprisingly the strongest performer of the ensemble, and details true fear with the utmost class and sophistication. Not to say that Hedren, Taylor or Suzanne Pleshette (who plays Mitch’s former flame Annie) give weak performances. Making her feature film debut, Tippi Hedren makes an indelible splash which never really reached the same heights.
An epic battle of man against nature, motionless child against pecking psychotic bird, Alfred Hitchcock creates pure terror with each horrific bird attack. Much of the horror is instilled through a lack of sound. The only thing that is audible as the birds attack is the sound of their attacking. The actors are left silent (sans the school children scene), striking up believable panic.
The following clip highlights the criminal mastermind nature of the birds. While detailed my distress during the screening, the clip does highlight a particular funny moment. Especially from 1:15 onwards.
James Madden is the editor of Film Blerg. He is currently undertaking a Master of Arts and Cultural Management at the University of Melbourne and is a Screen editor of Farrago magazine. He has also contributed to Portable, T-Squat and Upstart.
Jon from The Film Brief writes:
Hitchcock’s Rear Window exemplifies all the talents and class of the great director in a way that few of his other films manage — the folksy, pragmatic presence of Jimmy Stewart, the fluidity of the photography, the perfectly-named Grace Kelly, and of course the voyeuristic undertones that Hitch knew to be the underpinning of all great cinema. We go to the movies to watch other people and Rear Window throws that concept back in our face repeatedly — sometimes it is nauseatingly perverse (in the case of the attractive blonde dancer that Stewart ogles), sometimes it is sad (the not-quite-good-enough pianist across the way), sometimes it is intriguing (the domestically-challenged couple that become so important to the film’s plot). Rarely, though, is it easy to turn away from, especially when we know we should.
Stewart plays LB. “Jeff” Jeffries a daring photographer, house-ridden due to injuries sustained on an assignment that turns to watching the other residents of his apartment complex through his rear window. He is resistant to the advances of his friend Lisa (Grace Kelly), preferring to obsess over the various characters of his daily real-life soap operas. As always with Hitchcock, the plot turns sinister, as Stewart witnesses what seems to be a clear-cut case of domestic tension turning into murder. The twist is something of a classic Hitchcock MacGuffin, though. This story may look to be a murder mystery on the face of things – and certainly the resolution of this aspect of the story is paramount to the film’s effect – but really it’s a movie about movies first and foremost, and a movie about a damaged man’s relationships second. Jeff’s neighbours and their foibles make for fascinating viewing, particularly considering the lovely seamless way that Hitchcock films them and Jeff’s observation of them. But the main delight, for me, is the dialogue, the patter between Jeff and the people in his life – the little touches of humour in Stewart’s delivery, the gentle breaking of Lisa’s heart in every glance Jeff-wards, the way that Lisa cleverly wins into Jeff’s affection by becoming interested in his obsession. Matched with the brilliantly languid camerawork, this is a movie that can be enjoyed with the sound off and the picture on, and vice versa.
Of course, as always with Hitchcock, there is a regrettable undertone of slight misogyny, a sense that women just aren’t up to the task of pleasing men. Grace Kelly is one of Hitch’s classic tortured female characters – beautiful, intelligent, but still unable to justify herself to the men around her. In Rear Window, Jeff manifests his love of the flawed mundanity of everyday life by criticising Lisa for being ‘too perfect’ all the time! As usual in Hitch’s films, his women bear the brunt of his men’s shortcomings. This unfortunate perspective has always grated me about Hitch’s movies, but his brilliance in all technical realms of the film-making art trumps his sometimes questionable morals.
Rear Window is my favourite Hitchcock film. Something about it encapsulates everything about the old master that endears me to him. And I just love the fact that this is really a movie about movies and the voyeurism therein masquerading as a murder mystery.
Jon Fisher is the creator and editor of The Film Brief and host of The Film Brief podcast which you can find on iTunes.