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MY FIVE: HITCHCOCK FILMS

Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in our "desert island" film choices. Let us know what you think. brateragency@gmail.com.





Finding consensus over the best of Alfred Hitchcock’s 53 films seems an impossible task for Hitchcock fans, who will will quickly note that Vertigo and Notorious — two critical darlings — did not make My Five.  I’m not sure they’d make my top ten as I’m also a big fan of Foreign Correspondent, Rebecca, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rope, Saboteur, Frenzy, The Lodger, and of course, North by Northwest.  Maybe I should rethink this list...






The Birds (1963)


The only Hitchcock film that might have a shot at making a horror/monster list as those damn gulls just won’t give up.  Hitchcock lamented that so many moviegoers and critics were upset that he never explained why the birds attack Bodega Bay.  He thought it wasn’t important, and I agree.  How could you not love the jungle gym scene — an unforgettable masterpiece in building visual tension.  Then all hell breaks loose as the kids run down the hill.  How about Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) caught in her own cage of a telephone booth?  The townsfolk hiding in the restaurant are seemingly poised to turn on poor Melanie, suggesting her as the scapegoat for the attacks. A stoning seems in the offing. (Hedren discussed in her memoir Hitchcock’s questionable methods in filming some of the most traumatic scenes, such as using live birds in the trapped room scene without telling her ahead of time.). If you like your Hitchcock weird, visually arresting, and nightmare inducing, The Birds is for you.


Psycho (1960)


So many unforgettable, masterpiece moments — Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) rain-drenched car escape, Norman Bates and his taxidermy, the staircase murder of the private detective (the great character actor Martin Balsam), and of course, the sheer editing perfection of the shower scene, studied and dissected by filmmakers to this day.  I would also suggest that it has one of the best music scores EVER.  (Bernard Herrmann was nominated for five Oscars, but not for three groundbreaking HItchcock scores — Psycho, Vertigo or North by Northwest.  Go figure.). Then there is the thriller performance that comes closest to acting perfection — Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.  (Only that other Anthony comes close as Hannibal Lecter.). What a great film to watch this Mother’s Day.  As Norman tells us, “Well, a boy’s best friend is his mother.”


Rear Window (1954)


James Stewart may not have been the actor Hitchcock described as “the only actor I ever loved” (that honor went to Cary Grant), but Mr. Stewart starred in four of Hitchcock’s best films, and he is exquisite in Rear Window.  Confronted with a murder happening in the apartment across the courtyard, wheelchair-bound photographer Jeff Jeffries (Stewart) battles to save his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) as she provides the physical snooping his broken leg won’t allow.  Tension builds incredibly thanks to a malevolent, hulking Raymond Burr.  Includes one of Thelma Ritter’s best supporting performances, even though it was not one of her six roles resulting in Oscar noms.  Hitchcock seems to suggest that voyeurism is natural, even enjoyable, but it could also be deadly.  Great naturalistic set.


Shadow of A Doubt (1943)


OK, let’s get something straight:  Hitchcock did NOT tell Francois Truffaut that this was his favorite movie.  Here’s the exact quote from Truffaut’s book on Hitchcock:  “I wouldn’t say that Shadow of a Doubt is my favorite picture; if I’ve given that impression, it’s probably because I feel that here is something that our friends, the plausibles and logicians (see: The Birds above), cannot complain about.”  Certainly there is much to admire in the film as no one has been so stylish and menacing in capturing evil invading a small town.  This story of the Two Charlies — the murderous Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) and his namesake niece (Teresa Wright), keeps the tension building as Uncle Charlie’s survival instincts take hold and threaten the precarious balance of love and fear between these two.  The plot is airtight and includes a fantastic supporting cast led by Patricia Collinge, Henry Travers, and Hume Cronyn.  Joseph Cotton’s understated menace will have you screaming at the young Charlie:: “Run!” 


Strangers on a Train (1951)


Bruno Anthony as played by Robert Walker certainly ranks up there with Norman Bates as one of film’s all-time exquisite psychopaths.  This film could make a top five list on two fabulous sequences alone:  the tennis match and the climactic carousel scene.  But there’s also Bruno losing it and nearly strangling a socialite (the great Norma Varden) in the middle of a cocktail party.  Patricia Hitchcock — Alfred’s daughter — steals several scenes (as she did in Psycho, too), and Kasey Rogers is perfect as the manipulative Miriam — one of the intended victims.  Our leading man and tennis player, Guy (Farley Granger), has the somewhat thankless hero role...thankless because Bruno and his obsessive commitment to his “let’s swap murders” proposition grabs all of our attention.  


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